Physicians’ Ironic Disdain for Alternative Medicine


The rise in popularity of alternative medicine is often met with disdain by many physicians. However, I would argue that the blame for this shift lies squarely at the feet of the medical community. Patients aren’t turning to homeopathy, herbal supplements, or dubious online treatments out of preference but rather out of sheer desperation and a complete lack of trust in allopathic medicine. After all, being belittled, yelled at, or ignored doesn’t inspire confidence, and merely addressing a symptom over finding an actual resolution is not something most people see as “valuable.” If we are being honest with ourselves, in many ways, the rise of alternative medicine can be traced back to the failings of traditional healthcare systems to diagnose and treat complex, chronic conditions effectively.

While a trip to an emergency room is likely all the evidence anyone might need to understand this problem, the true scope can be found by examining those with chronic and rare ailments. Estimates vary, but roughly 60% of the population is dealing with some kind of chronic ailment, many of which remain undiagnosed. However, I would argue that this number is grossly understated due specifically to underreporting and the many conditions that are largely ignored by mainstream medicine.

The truth is that patients suffering from tough medical conditions often find themselves trapped in a cycle of endless consultations, ineffective treatments, and dismissive attitudes from healthcare providers. These patients are not hypochondriacs; they are real people who have legitimate health concerns that conventional medicine frequently fails to address. Logically, the inadequacy of traditional healthcare to provide answers or relief sometimes drives these patients toward alternative solutions.

Moreover, the financial burden placed on patients seeking a diagnosis is staggering. Continuous visits to specialists, numerous tests, and ineffective treatments lead to astronomical healthcare costs. From a psychological standpoint, the whole situation is very taxing for the individual. For many, expensive insurance plans offer little relief, leaving them to bear these expenses out of pocket. Logically, this financial strain pushes patients toward more affordable alternative treatments despite the risks involved.

Of course, the emotional toll of living with a challenging condition cannot be overstated. Patients often feel abandoned and invalidated by a medical system that is supposed to help them. When their symptoms are dismissed or misdiagnosed as psychosomatic, their frustration and desperation only grow. This emotional turmoil drives them to seek out anyone or anything that promises relief, even if it means venturing into the world of alternative medicine.

Of course, the argument could be made that these individuals just need to find the “right” physician. However, the conventional medical system has numerous barriers that prevent effective diagnosis. Limited diagnostic tools and a fragmented healthcare system make it difficult for patients to get the necessary comprehensive care. Furthermore, many physicians lack the time, expertise, resources, or willingness to delve into complex or seemingly rare cases, leaving patients with incomplete or incorrect diagnoses or getting passed from one physician to the next as each passes the problem along. If you think that is a stretch, then understand that the average time to get a proper diagnosis for such conditions is generally about 6 to 8 years. Patients who feel that they don’t have that kind of time often look elsewhere for solutions.

Given these frustrations, it’s no surprise that alternative medicine has seen a surge in popularity, and it’s no wonder the supplement and alternative medicine industry is booming. Simplistically, patients turn to home remedies, supplements, and non-traditional therapies not because they inherently distrust conventional medicine but because traditional medicine has failed them. Compounding the problem is the idea that the stories of those who find relief through alternative means, whether placebo or real, spread quickly, further bolstering the appeal of these non-conventional approaches. Ultimately, the alternative route gives patients the sense of control that is inherently absent in traditional medicine.

Physicians’ dismissive attitudes towards alternative medicine only exacerbate the issue. Instead of addressing the underlying reasons why patients seek these treatments, many in the medical community scorn them. However, this approach ignores the root cause: patients’ desperation and unmet needs. Whether that is due to ego or ignorance, the fact is that by failing to provide adequate care and then ridiculing the alternatives patients turn to, physicians only deepen the divide between conventional and alternative medicine, along with the distrust in the physicians that belittle any relief the patient might find.

If physicians don’t like alternative medicine, then they need to change the underlying reason why people seek it in the first place. The healthcare system must undergo significant changes to curb the rise of alternative medicine. Physicians need to remember that they are service providers and then listen to and validate their patients’ experiences, even when the path to diagnosis is not so straightforward. Investing in advanced diagnostic tools and fostering a more patient-centered care approach are essential. By addressing these systemic issues, the medical community can regain patients’ trust and reduce the allure of dangerous alternative medicine practices.

Let me be clear. The rise of alternative medicine is likely a direct consequence of the failures of conventional healthcare. I will also say that trying to ban or overly regulate the alternative medicine sphere is not the answer because patients are finding some relief not offered by their physicians, who have essentially abandoned them.

Shutting that door on alternatives will only increase the distrust in allopathic medicine. Nonetheless, physicians can no longer afford to ignore the desperation that drives patients away from traditional treatments. By acknowledging and addressing the inadequacies within their system, healthcare providers can better serve their patients and diminish the need for alternative medicine. Both approaches can and likely should exist. Ideally, they would co-exist. Either way, the solution lies not in dismissing alternative practices but in improving the conventional ones.

Potential Solutions to help Physicians Bridge the Gap

As mentioned, if you want to change the perception of medicine, you must be the change you seek. To address the frustrations that drive patients towards alternative medicine, physicians must implement a more proactive and empathetic approach to managing complicated or chronic conditions. Never forget that physicians are service providers – not an all-knowing entity with the final word. Serve your clients!

One effective strategy could be the establishment of a robust follow-up system. This system would ensure continuous engagement with patients through regular check-ins, either via automated reminders or direct communication from healthcare professionals. Such reminders would acknowledge the ongoing challenges patients face and reinforce the physician’s commitment to their care. After all, many patients simply want assurances that they are not going to die. Moreover, these reminders would prompt the patient and the physician to re-evaluate the treatment plan, ensuring that any new symptoms or lack of progress are promptly addressed.

To further support patients, physicians should develop and foster a robust resource network that connects them to research experts and cutting-edge studies relevant to their conditions. Remember that you don’t have to have all of the answers, but it’s a darn good idea to have all the resources! This network would provide patients with access to the latest medical advancements and reassure them that their physicians are actively seeking out the best possible care options. Similarly, by staying informed about ongoing research and emerging treatments, physicians can offer informed guidance and reduce the likelihood of patients turning to unverified or potentially dangerous alternative therapies.

Accordingly, interdisciplinary collaboration is another critical component. Physicians should build their networks and consider organizing regular brainstorming sessions involving specialists and researchers, including primary care doctors, urologists, dermatologists, infectious disease experts, and even health-oriented PhD and EdD research professionals trained in the art of exploration and questioning. This collaborative approach would facilitate sharing diverse perspectives and expertise, leading to more comprehensive and innovative treatment strategies. Additionally, involving patients in these discussions can provide valuable insights into their experiences and concerns, fostering a sense of partnership and mutual respect.

Remember that your way is not the “only” way. Second opinions exist because the first was an opinion as well. However, incorporating holistic and integrative medicine approaches within a conventional practice can address patients’ needs for more comprehensive care while addressing both short-term and long-term goals. This might include referrals to dietitians, health science researchers, physical therapists, or even counselors who can work alongside the primary physician to address various aspects of the patient’s health and well-being. In other words, physicians can choose to be the hub of care or be replaced.

When it comes to patients, you don’t know what you don’t know. Many physicians are unaware of how badly they are failing some patients. That’s understandable, considering the lack of effective and honest communication between physician and patient. Therefore, establishing mechanisms for regular patient feedback can help physicians understand the effectiveness of their care from the patient’s perspective. This feedback can highlight areas for improvement and provide insights into patient satisfaction and treatment efficacy. This merely ensures repeat business and opens the door to true healing.

As previously stated, physicians should stay abreast of the latest research and advances in medical science and establish their outlets for clinical trials and other research initiatives. Specifically, participating in “real / non-pharma” continuous education and training can help equip them with new skills and knowledge to tackle complex cases more effectively while also expanding the options at their disposal. This type of ongoing education can also involve learning about credible alternative therapies that may complement conventional treatments, which will only ease the stress on a patient’s pocketbook and help to further establish trust in the physician – which ensures a long-term partnership.

We need to be doing a better job! However, I believe such measures can help physicians create a more supportive, responsive, and comprehensive care environment that addresses the multifaceted needs of patients with chronic, complicated, and rare conditions. We just have to get out of our own way to achieve that and be willing to play nice with others.

That said, let me be clear in the idea that I’m not saying that all alternative therapies are worthless or dangerous. Many are actually extremely helpful, and some are more effective than traditional measures in some cases. I’m also not saying that all physicians are opposed to alternative medicine. However, we are talking about a lack of trust, and this proactive and patient-centered approach can help restore trust in conventional medicine, ensure collaboration when it matters most, and reduce the inclination toward potentially dangerous alternative therapies.

We have to start somewhere!

Keep digging! Be sure to check out my article titled Navigating Chronic And Rare Disease

Dr. Robertson is a health researcher and educator, not a physician. The information provided here is not medical advice, a professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment, or service to you or any other individual. The information provided is for educational and anecdotal purposes only and is not a substitute for medical or professional care. You should not use the information in place of a visit, call consultation, or the advice of your physician or other healthcare providers. Dr. Robertson is not liable or responsible for any advice, course of treatment, diagnosis, or additional information, services, or product you obtain or utilize. IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY, YOU SHOULD IMMEDIATELY CALL 911 OR YOUR PHYSICIAN.