Teaching Tomorrow's Doctors
Like the Mortons, Linda Gooding wants people to think about alternative medicine in a rational, practical way. Gooding is a professor of microbiology and immunology at Emory University in Atlanta, where she also teaches medical students about alternative methods of treating patients.
"Some medical schools have embraced alternative medicine more than others," she says.
Why should future doctors be open-minded about alternative treatments? One key reason, Gooding says, is credibility. A doctor who ignores a patient's claims to have successfully used an alternative therapy may lose effectiveness with that patient.
"It would be my hope in the long run that alternative medicine would have a major impact on the way we train physicians," she says.
Ducking the Quacks
Unfortunately, the growth in alternative therapies has also meant a growth in bogus remedies hawked by medical impostors.
"I think we're in the golden age of quackery," says Dr. Stephen Barrett, who founded the Quackwatch web site. Once upon a time, tricksters traveled from town to town peddling their wares, but in today's wired world, many of them have found a home on the Internet. And although the Federal Trade Commission tries to police sites offering phony cures, the best defense against quackery is for consumers to educate themselves.
Dr. John Renner is another "quackwatcher." He's president of the National Council for Reliable Health Information and chief medical officer of the Healthscout web site, where readers can find health news or just answers to basic questions.
"I'm interested in helping patients accumulate information so they can help themselves, without having to go to a doctor all the time," he states. This pertains to all kinds of medicine. The fields of diet and nutrition, for instance, are notorious for the useless weight-loss gimmicks that consumers are urged to buy.
Renner recommends that people avoid health-food stores that are long on diet supplements and short on simple, healthy foods. However, other health care issues, such as purported cures for cancer, are more difficult for patients to evaluate objectively.
"Desperation really does enter in," Renner admits. Fortunately, there are numerous reliable Web sites on the subject, such as the American Cancer Society. For health issues of all kinds, people can also use the governments Health and Human Services Department Website. We're in the "Information Age," so it's all the more important for us to make sure our information is reliable.