According to a study in the Jan. 28, 1993, New England
Journal of Medicine, 1 in 3 patients used alternative therapy in 1990. More than 80
percent of those who use alternative therapies used conventional medicine at the same
time, but did not tell their doctors about the alternative treatments.
In 1990, Americans made an estimated 425 million visits to
alternative health practitioners-more than they made to primary care physicians.
In 1992, the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda,
Maryland, established the Office of Alternative Medicine, which devotes more than $3
million a year to exploring unconventional healing techniques such as meditation, massage,
vitamin therapy and herbal therapy.
In 1993, Americans spent an estimated $1.5 billion on herbal
remedies, including teas and supplements. While that's a lot less than the $13.3 billion
spent on over-the-counter drugs, it's more than ten times the amount we spend on
over-the-counter sleeping pills from grocery stores and drugstores.
As mentioned before, worldwide, only an estimated 10
percent to 30 percent of human health care is delivered by conventional, biomedically
oriented practitioners. The remaining 70 percent to 90 percent ranges from self-care
according to folk principles to care given in an organized health care system based on an
alternative tradition or practice.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 4
billion people, 80 percent of the world population, presently use herbal medicine for some
aspect of primary health care. Herbal medicine is a major component in all indigenous
peoples traditional medicine and a common element in Ayurvedic,
traditional oriental, and Native American Indian medicine.
As more and more people are being attracted to alternative
medicine, the willingness to consider alternative therapies is also beginning to spread to
the health insurance industry. A few large carriers have started to experiment with
covering alternative treatments. A pilot program at Mutual of Omaha, for instance, covers
the Dean Ornish cardiac rehabilitation program, and Blue Cross of Washington has a policy
that covers naturopathy and homeopathy. American Western Life Insurance Company of Foster
City, California covers naturopathic treatments, including Ayurveda, homeopathy,
nutritional counseling, massage and physical therapy. The company maintains a full-time
Wellness Line, staffed by trained naturopathic doctors who answer clients' health care
questions. Premiums for the Wellness plan are about 20 percent lower than for the
company's traditional plans, says Lisa WolfKlaln, an American Western vice-president who
oversees the Wellness plan, "because we believe very strongly that if people do take
care of themselves, if they take preventive measures, it's going to save us all a lot of
money in the long run."
Next Topic: Classification
of Alternative Systems of Medical Practice
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