Integrative medicine ‘health fraud and quackery’

A MJA Perspectives piece criticising integrative medicine has been welcomed by Friends of Science in Medicine, who say integrative medicine is “mixing science-based health professions with pseudoscience based practices”.

The MJA piece, by Edzard Ernst, Emeritus Professor, Exeter University, wrote that while often touted as the “best of both worlds” incorporating conventional and alternative/complementary medicine, it is an “ill-conceived concept which turns out to be largely about the promotion and use of unproven or disproven therapies”.

“Holism, attention to lifestyle, disease prevention, empathetic doctor-patient relationships, and whatever else we might find on the banner of integrative medicine, are important features of any type of good medicine,” he writes.

“If they are neglected in conventional medicine, we should reform our current health care. Creating a new branch of medicine is no solution because it can only distract from this important task.”

He says that claims integrative medicine is simply a “rebranding exercise” for alternative medicine is confirmed by a critical assessment of the therapies on offer. He particularly singles out homeopathy and the conclusion of the NHMRC review that it not be used to treat serious or chronic illness or that which could become serious.

“Promoting such questionable therapies under the guise of integrative medicine seems neither ethical nor in line with the currently accepted standards of evidence-based practice.”

Professor John Dwyer, President of FSM, says FSM has been issuing similar warnings for some time about the emergence of integrative medicine in Australia.

“Many GPs who lead ‘Integrative Medicine’ practices promote alternative medicine concepts to their patients and, in so doing, abandon the long held commitment of doctors to champion the importance of credible scientific evidence of clinical effectiveness underpinning the care they provide to patients,” says Prof Dwyer.

“The prestigious National Health and Medical Research council recently reported to government that they could find no evidence of clinical benefit from any of the eighteen most common alternative modalities commonly promoted in Integrative Medicine.”

FSM says that it strongly supports “research into traditional therapies that are not an affront to accepted knowledge of physiology and pathology and where there is strong anecdotal evidence to suggest proper scientific evaluation would be important”.

It cites a recent address to University of Adelaide medical graduates, published this month in MedicSA, by Emeritus Professor Alastair MacLennan, Vice President of FSM, who warned the new graduates that they would be challenged by the upsurge in non-evidence based therapies and alternative therapists and that “they should not be seduced into the lucrative but unproven and therefore untenable amalgam of traditional medicine and pseudoscientific alternate practices”.

“The Australian Federal government has no legitimate basis to continue funding health fraud and quackery”, says Prof MacLennan today.

“Just as the government is appropriately suggesting removing Medicare benefits for unproven or low value medical and surgical procedures, there are no grounds for continuing to subsidise a vast array of unproven alternative therapies directly or indirectly through private insurance rebates.”

Another piece in MJA, Pharmacists selling CAM doesn’t wash, criticised pharmacies for selling CMs.


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