An amusing and useful story on MSNBC starts: “After 15 pleasant years with the same person, Marcia David started seeing someone else. As several months of two-timing passed, she came clean: She told her doctor she’d been seeing a naturopathic physician on the side.”
The story came to me by email, accompanied by these comments: “Many people are seeking natural approaches to health care, but not everyone is comfortable with telling their traditional family doctor about it. Some patients hide their newfound approach to health care from their usual doctor but this secretive approach to health care can be harmful.”
For me the key part of this story is the source of the email. It came from Howard Trachtman, a mental health consumer activist in Massachusetts. Howard regularly sends emails to a distribution list of mental health professionals that includes the Commissioner of Mental Health and others in leadership positions.
Communicating about alternative medicine is an important piece of the effort to empower health consumers and patients. If we include prayer in our definition, two thirds of the U.S. adult population uses “alternative medicine.” When patients and physicians talk about alternative medicine we are not just exchanging nuggets of information -- we are acknowledging that as important as evidence-based medicine is, it is only part of what we do to improve our health when we are ailing.
The NIH Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine provides practical tools for physicians and patients to help them become more skillful at including alternative medicine in their conversations.
Experts in quality improvement like Jim Conway, vice president of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, emphasize the importance of patient, family and advocate voice in making the health system better, safer, and fairer. We all need to improve our skills in talking straight with each other. This resolution isn't just politically correct goody-goodyism -- it is more evidence-based than many of the things we routinely do in health care.
So I thank Howard Trachtman and his colleagues for the email and for years of advocacy work!