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The Relativity of Alternative Medicine

Joseph S. Alpert, MD
Arch Intern Med. 1995;155(22):2385. doi:10.1001/archinte.1995.00430220031004.
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ACCEPTANCE OF so-called alternative medical practices by allopathic physicians is discussed in this issue of the Archives. Ernst et al1 examined published surveys of physicians in Europe, New Zealand, and Israel and were surprised to discover that, overall, physicians perceived alternative medicine practices as moderately effective. Young physicians and medical students seemed more positive about these modalities than their older colleagues. Patients were the most enthusiastic, and visits to alternative medicine practitioners outnumbered those to allopathic physicians in the United States.2 In Denmark, 23% of patients sought alternative therapies; in France, 49%.3

See also page 2405

How surprising is this result? I contend that the findings of Ernst et al1 should not startle modern allopathic practitioners if alternative techniques are seen in the context of medical history. Indeed, many current therapeutic interventions were first used by lay or alternative practitioners and were later introduced and accepted by


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