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Whether someone views something as a placebo or not from a medical standpoint, if it improves the health and well-being of a patient then it is good for that patient, and good for the medical community as a whole (Ambrose, 2007).
The second reason for the health care system to allow alternative medicine is that people believe in it in the same way that they believe in placebo pills if they are not told that they are placebos (Ambrose, 2007). There will always be some people who do not think that these things work, and they might not work for them, but there are many people who have been helped by non-traditional medical practices, just as there are many people who have been helped by more traditional means (Ambrose, 2007). People should be allowed to choose which one they want without fear of getting in trouble with the law, getting someone else in trouble for practicing medicine without a license, or going to someone who is not reliable and safe. When Western medicine begins to take on more 'placebo' treatments, doctors and nurses will find that they are able to do more for their patients by saying that they are going to help them, instead of by saying that they are going to give them something that they know is not real medicine to see what happens (Ambrose, 2007).
So, are placebos and holistic options good for patients? The short answer is - yes and no. These things are good because some people can actually benefit from alternative medicines and treatments or 'treatments' that are real at all but that they believe in more than they can from conventional medicine. There is no clear explanation for this, but some people just seem to respond to these kinds of things better. Perhaps it is mind over matter.
There is a downside, though, and that is the fact that much of the Eastern medicine revolution in this country is not being regulated properly, and that makes it dangerous. People need to be able to make informed decisions about their healthcare. The days of doctors telling patients what to do and the patients blindly following instructions are mostly gone. There are still some doctor-patient relationships that work that way, but mostly doctors and patients work together now. If people are going to practice alternative medicine, there needs to be the same kind of doctor-patient relationship with them as well. So where does that leave the placebo debate?
If patients need to be informed about what they are putting into their bodies and what kinds of treatments are being done to them. However, there is little point in giving someone a drug or treatment and telling them that it really is nothing but a fake. The reason that Eastern medicine does so well - fake or not - is because of the belief that people have in it. They have faith that it will work, and it does. By insisting that a nurse tell a patient he or she is getting a placebo, that faith would be lost, and there would be no point in continuing. The point is that alternative medicine and the placebo effect are important parts of healthcare, but so is traditional medicine. If the two can learn to work together and help each other out when their methods do not seem to be working for a particular patient then the health care system will be greatly improved. If they cannot work together there will always be tension between the two groups which could ultimately hurt the people that they most want to help -- the patients.
Ambrose, EG. (2007). Placebos: The nurse and the iron pills. Journal of Medical Ethics, 33, 325-28.
Connelly, RJ. (1991). Nursing responsibility for the placebo effect. Journal of Medical Philosophy, 16(3), 325-41.
Jones, Stephen F. (2002). Where Does Naturopathic Medicine Fit into the Canadian Health Care System? Isn't it Time all Health Care Providers Work Together? Millennium Health Centre. Retrieved at http://www.millenniumhealthcentre.com/art10.htm
Moerman, D. (2002). Meaning, medicine, and the 'placebo effect.' Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-80630-5.
Power, JJ (n.d.). A combined study exploring nurse lecturers' understanding of holism, the placebo and touch in nursing therapy. Queen's University Belfast. Retrieved…[continue]
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