British Medical Journal 1998 (Jun 6); 313 : 1694
The double standards that exist in judging orthodox and alternative medicine should be challenged, and reliable tools that can validate both approaches need to be found. The call came last week in London at a conference on integrated medicine which was organised by the Prince of Wales.
Dr Iain Chalmers, the director of the UK Cochrane Centre and a vociferous proponent of systematic reviews, told delegates: “Critics of complementary medicine often seem to operate a double standard, being far more assiduous in their attempts to outlaw unevaluated complementary medical practices than unevaluated orthodox practices.”
He said: “These double standards might be acceptable if orthodox medicine was based solely on practices which had been shown to do more good than harm, and if the mechanisms through which their beneficial elements had their effects were understood, but neither of these conditions applies.”
It is thought that more than 60% of orthodox treatments have not been scientifically proved. Dr Chalmers added that the aim should not be to indulge in “data free” arguments, but to find a range of reliable tools to assess the effectiveness and safety of any healthcare intervention, be it orthodox or complementary.
The call was backed by the Prince of Wales who, as president of the Foundation for Integrated Medicine, opened the conference. “We need to commit ourselves to a rigorous but open minded evaluation of practice in all aspects of health care, and to finding ways of translating ideas into action in the most effective manner,” he said. Prince Charles also urged national funding and educational bodies to consider what they could contribute to increase research and awareness in the field.
For his part the health secretary, Frank Dobson, announced that a further £25000 ($40000) had been earmarked to continue developing a regulatory framework for complementary and alternative medicine practitioners. “I believe that what works is what counts and what counts is what works,” he said, noting that it was only “right and proper” that rigorous standards of efficacy and safety should be applied across the board.