Alternative medicine wins doctors' support

by Richard Mackie of the Globe and Mail

Toronto, Sept. 23, 1997 -- Patients in Ontario should have easier access to alternative forms of medicine, such as acupuncture, homeopathy and chiropractic services, under a new policy adopted by the College of Physicians and Surgeons.

The policy reflects the reality that about 40 per cent of Ontario residents aged 18 years or older use alternative medicines, according to a poll conducted earlier this summer by Angus Reid Group Inc.

It found that across Canada, about 42 per cent of those questioned said they had turned to alternative medicines to supplement or to replace conventional treatments. This is up from 23 per cent five years ago.

The highest rate was in British Columbia, at 56 per cent. Women, people with higher incomes and Canadians aged 35 to 54 were most likely to use the treatments, which also include naturopathy, herbology and traditional Chinese medicine.

The reasons cited for turning to alternative medicine include: Alternative medicines and practices don't hurt you and may help a bit (48 per cent); regular medicines on their own aren't working for me (34 per cent); alternative medicines and practices are more natural (33 per cent); side effects from doctor-prescribed medicines and practices are worrisome (23 per cent).

The Ontario policy on alternative medicine puts it among the leading provinces in overseeing forms of treatment that differ from the traditional Western medicine.

The policy states that there should be no sanctions against a doctor who refers a patient to someone practicing alternative medicine, if the doctor believes it is appropriate and would not expose the patient to harm.

It also says doctors trained in traditional Western medicine should become more familiar with the alternatives. And it sets out the need to regulate practitioners of alternative medicine so patients can be assured the treatment is safe and has some likelihood of being effective.

It is the first time such a policy on alternative, or complementary, medicine has been adopted by the college, which regulates the 21,000 doctors in Ontario under the Regulated Health Professions Act.

The policy, approved by the college's governing council yesterday, is based on a report prepared by a committee established by the council.

Prepared by Ricardo B. Serrano, DAc, MH, ADS
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