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Alternative Medicine

How Popular Is Alternative Medicine?

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, homeopathic, naturopathic, 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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