Future medicine

It is not the practice of this news column to mention books or other products. On this occasion however, one newly released book warrants attention because it is the embodiment of the change that is taking place in medicine in the 21st century.

The book in question is General Practice: The Integrative Approach by Professor Kerryn Phelps and Dr Craig Hassed. What the book does is lay down a platform for the future of medicine; an integrated future of medicine. The integration in question is of “orthodox medicine” and what is sometimes called “alternative” or “complementary” medicine.

Essentially the orthodox philosophy sees medical science as applied biology and its practitioners as diagnostic biochemists. It is based on the principle of Cartesian Dualism which implies that even if there were no mind in it, the nerves, muscles and blood vessels of the body would have the same functions. This separation of mind and body was espoused by Rene Descartes in the 17th century and has served as the underpinning of the orthodox approach since that time.

The separation of mind and body paved the way for the development of a medical approach based on measurable quantities. This was what allowed medicine to become a science and possess directly predictive properties. Orthodox medicine has been incredibly successful. It has prolonged lives and, along with improvements in hygiene, been part of a social and medical milieu that has seen many diseases eradicated. Yet the latter part of the 20th century and now the 21st century has seen a widespread movement toward another medical model.

“Complementary medicine” is a term that encompasses a range of practises and philosophies. Some are ancient and some are relatively new but what they have in common is that they are based on theories or explanatory mechanisms that are not in keeping with the orthodox biomedical model. Some of the medical modalities that come under the heading of complementary medicine are herbal medicine, homoeopathy, acupuncture, nutrition, massage and counselling. These modalities are diverse but they hold common central attitudes.

Complementary medicine rejects the dualism of orthodox philosophy while accepting the science of medicine. Fundamentally, complementary modalities embrace a concept of medicine as a science of the human person and insist on an understanding of disease as something that involves a systemic dislocation of the whole person, not just of the body.

Within complementary medical modalities there are variations on this philosophy yet the holistic view that health is a dynamic interplay between mind, body and spirit is common to all. Certainly the premises of complementary medicine are finding increasing support with scientists, governments and people the world over.

On a global scale there is substantial and justifiable acceptance of the many benefits that orthodox medicine brings. Simultaneously however, the Western world, birthplace of orthodox medicine, is embracing complementary medicine in an emphatic way. Of course, this does not negate the undeniable benefits of orthodox medicine and the pharmaceutical approach. It does however, mean that a system which draws these two medical attitudes together and integrates them into a whole is the future of medicine. If you want to check out that future then have a look at this book, “General Practice: An Integrative Approach”.

As the book itself proclaims, it aims to present a “best practice” model for medicine; not an alternative one. This book is about how medicine should be practised in your local clinic, wherever you are. It examines physiology and pharmacology relating to medical conditions and then addresses therapeutic options including lifestyle advice, nutrition, herbs, supplements, acupuncture, bodywork, and meditation.

You only have to look at the authors to see that this idea of “integration” has become mainstream; both authors are general practitioners and leaders in the medical field. Professor Phelps is a Professor in the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at the University of NSW. She is a past president of the Australian Medical Association, a well known media identity, and is the President of the Australasian Integrative Medical Association (AIMA). Dr Craig Hassed is Deputy Head of Department at the Monash University Department of General Practice.

These progressive authors have written a highly detailed tome that can form the basis of our medical future. The publication of such a major book is a gratifying indication that our medicine is evolving in the right direction.

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The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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