The term “integrative medicine,” like the words “holistic” and “natural,” is a mealy-mouthed euphemism for such a broad range of ideas, most of them utter tripe, that it means nothing. Although it once must have meant something to somebody, now it is just another marketing phrase to make people feel good about buying swill. Pleasantly scented swill, no doubt, but swill just the same. This is not to say that medicine shouldn’t be integrative. In fact, many would argue that medicine has become so specialized and sub-specialized that it is a little too integrative. A hospitalized patient, for example, is usually escorted through his Big Hospital Adventure by a small platoon of doctors and other health care professionals. There’s the hospitalist who admitted him, the cardiologist who was consulted because of chest pain, the nephrologist fretting over his decreasing renal function, and the usual gaggle of physical therapists, nutritionists, and pharmacists all integrating their talents for his benefit. Under the aegis of this team however are now added homeopaths, bio-feedback experts, Chinese herbalists, and other purveyors of Complementary and Alternative Medicine.Â Add an Ayurvedic healer, an acupuncturist, and a couple of circus freaks and now we’re talking integrative, baby!
Originally devised as a marketing ploy to lure desperate cancer patients into for-profit hospitals, integrative medicine has now found its way into primary care where the wealthy and bored can experience the ultimate in egocentric boutique medicine. Take a therapy like Reiki, proudly offered at such notable medical centers like Sloan-Kettering and Duke. Oh my learned colleagues, physicians and inheritors of a profession that has but recently lifted itself from superstition and snake oil, do you really want to be associated with practioners who purport to heal by shooting mystical Japanese spiritual energy out of their fingers? I ask because when you strip away all of the glitz and the pretense, that is exactly and in totality the therapeutic modality of Reiki. Sounds ridiculous because…well…it is ridiculous.
Or suppose I invited an Astrologer to join the faculty and offer medical advice to your patients? Or a faith healer? You’d no doubt protest and mutter darkly about primitive superstition not having a place in medicine and you’d be right. But what, pray tell, is the difference between something like Ayurvedic medicine, one of the usual suspects in integrative medicine, and astrology or faith healing? Nothing, really, except that you’d be embarassed to consult an astrologer and Christian faith healing, as you reject religion in medicine, is prima facie unacceptable while Hindu faith healing gets a free pass. The fact that we even have to have a debate on the validity of Ayurveduc medicine, homeopathy, and other obviously ridiculous treatment modalities is, in itself, ridiculous and I can only shake my head and wonder at the powerful hold of quackery on my learned colleagues in the Ivy League where this kind of thing flourishes. When you are incapable of asking for proof of the existence of chakra, qi, or mystical fire flowing from the appendages of charlatans, maybe you have become a tad too open-minded. So open minded that you no longer have the conceptual tools to distinguish the right from the wrong, the good from the bad, or the reasonable from the ridiculous.
It’s not difficult. Generally, if someone claims to shoot mystical fire or diagnose Hindu humors he should have an uphill struggle convincing the educated. Skepticism should be your first position but that would require a little too much common sense, not to mention being a little judgemental which is the only remaining sin among the over-educated elites. It is in this manner that that prestigious medical centers succumb to a form of blackmail. If they Reject Eastern mysticism and other completely laughable medical therapies they risk losing their street cred’ among their lesser-educated but more institutionally powerful peers.