[Report] Dutch doctors should use alternative therapies more

10 April 2014, by
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Doctors in the Netherlands should make more use of alternative therapies such as acupuncture and music therapy when treating their patients, said The Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development (ZonMw) in a new report.

The report, written with several doctors and health administrators, demonstrates the need for doctors to use more complementary care that has been proved to be effective. They emphasise that they do not encourage the use of unproven methods: their intention is "to sort the wheat from the chaff."

"It would be a shame if we withheld care from the patient that works," said Hans Jeekel, professor of surgery at Erasmus MC Rotterdam, who was involved in the report. His estimate is that while most alternative medicine would not pass the test and more still needs to be found out as to what does work and how, "we should at least be trying it."

Alternative therapies that work

Opponents of alternative medicine often say that there is little evidence that they really work. One such alternative treatment that is often considered suspect is homeopathy, as scientific studies have shown (a recent one is discussed here) that there is no proof of the principle of homeopathic dilution of toxic substances.

Nonetheless, Jeekel said that if reliable evidence was found to prove that homeopathy did work, he would give it another chance.

According to the ZonMw report, complementary therapies that have been proven to work properly include dietary supplements in some instances and various therapies focused on the body and psyche that reduce pain and stress, such as acupuncture, chiropractic treatment and music therapy.

Playing music to patients during surgery has been found to not only relax them but also to help bodily functions, such as their immune system and level of oxygen in their blood, do better. It means that less pain relief is needed and thus patients can go home sooner.

Dutch doctors using alternative therapies

A recent trial in emergency departments in Melbourne, Australia, showed that acupuncture offered the same level of pain relief as analgesic drugs when patients rated their pain one hour after treatment.

Complementary care in the Netherlands

Over the next 18 months, Jekeel will be working with other doctors on a steering committee responsible for embedding complementary care in the Netherlands.

"Our goal is to gain insight into what is offered in Dutch health care institutions and with what effectiveness," says Ruud Hopstaken, the steering committee’s chairman. "In addition, there should be a proper investigation of the position and value of complementary care."

There is also a proposal that proven, effective alternative care therapies should be reimbursed by health insurance, especially as alternative therapy is often more cost effective than drugs, which tend to be expensive.

While he admits that the debate between supporters and opponents of alternative medicine is often fierce, Jeekel thinks the atmosphere changing. "For me this insight came after my retirement as a doctor," he said. "I hope that my younger colleagues have it earlier."

Sources: ZonMw, Trouw, Volkskrant, The Guardian, The Age

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Alexandra Gowling

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