It seems that many people still see “alternative medicine” therapy as an expense that fits into the “disposable income” category of their budget. In my money management software, it fits most neatly under “Spa” activities, which are in the same place as haircuts and bikini waxes. I’ve recently gone to great lengths to alter this so I can place it in the same place as “Dentist visits” and “Pharmacy.” That’s where it belongs.
Now, there are many issues involved in this discussion. It’s important not to obscure the conversation by leaving them all mixed up together. One important distinction involves insurance. Many people still do not have insurance to cover acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine.
In an economically depressed time, people will most likely stop using any healthcare that does not get at least mostly reimbursed by their insurance. Likewise, uninsured people are quite likely to stop getting healthcare services altogether when their finances get tight. The whole question of insurance is a separate, but embedded, concern in this conversation.
All things being equal, I still feel that many people would preferentially choose Western medical treatment over any “complementary or alternative” healthcare treatment during tight economic times. I feel that this is the fault of “complementary and alternative” healthcare practitioners, for the most part.
We are absolutely responsible for being an educational force in the world
When we have fewer patients, we should be doing double education duty out in the community. Giving talks, getting articles in the paper, writing to our blogs, working on our books and journal articles, teaching cheap and free classes in our clinics – all of these things can help continue to educate the general public about the great benefits of what we do.
If people are more educated about the benefits of Chinese medicine (or whatever modality you practice) they are less likely to see it as “disposable” and thus more likely to continue visiting you during difficult economic times.
Personally, I believe that this sort of socio-economic climate makes Chinese medicine therapy more important for people than ever. This is also true of most alternative medical modalities. Why? I can think of three major reasons, all of which would make worthy talk/article topics for your renewed public education efforts:
- Stress relief : Nearly all alternative medical therapies are well-suited to help patients manage stress. When economic pressures are high, people get tense, and the damaging health and relationship effects of stress are well-documented. While it’s hard to keep a long-range view when short-range difficulties are so present, being aware of stress’ effects will pay off. Even from a more short-term perspective, the improvement in daily functioning, work performance and sense of resilience should more than justify the relatively small costs associated with acupuncture (or other) treatment.
- Avoiding major illness : When your belt is tightened, the last thing you need is to miss work because of a terrible cold – much worse to have a flare up of your lupus symptoms, need to increase your pain medication, or end up in the emergency room because of some serious health concern. Keeping one’s body in balance with Chinese medicine or other complementary medical therapy just makes good economic sense from the perspective of avoiding a paycheck draining visit to the MD or ER. I have seen many patients stay strong through cold season (thus no visit to the MD, plus no loss of work time) when normally they would have had to take sick days. I’ve also seen patients have the opportunity to decrease pain and other medication (thus reducing costs) because of acupuncture and Chinese herbal treatment. Think about it!
- For some conditions – natural medicine therapy is just cheaper! Let’s face it – Western medicine doesn’t have great solutions for a variety of medical conditions. Consider Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – Western medical intervention is both expensive and largely ineffective for the majority of CFS sufferers. Why pay exorbitant office visit fees (even if you only have to pay a co-pay) and fill your body full of expensive pharmaceuticals (that rarely get to the root of the problem)? While I’m legally obligated to avoid saying that Chinese medicine can “cure” CFS, I can say that I’ve seen CFS sufferers have energy and optimism for the first time in many years after a fairly cheap course of Chinese medicine therapy. Even a fairly expensive practitioner should be able to make good progress with a CFS suffer for under $1000. This is a seriously debilitating condition for people who experience it – $1000 is a small price to pay for the ability to go to work, have satisfying relationships and get on with one’s life.
About Eric Grey
Hi - I'm the founder of this site and the primary master of all functions here. When I'm not writing, you can find me reaching out to the Chinese Medicine community across the web and in my own backyard. I currently teach Chinese herbs at my alma mater, the National College of Natural Medicine. Additionally, I'm the founder of Watershed Wellness, a thriving local clinic in Southeast Portland in Oregon. No matter where I'm working, you'll find my focus on the Classical approach to Chinese medicine laced throughout everything I do.