Poll: Parents want alternative medicine in basket

Many complementary medicine techniques have not been scientifically proven to be effective, but they remain very popular.

Pills 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Pills 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Although the Treasury only allocated NIS 300 million to expand the basket of medical technologies for 2012, more than 96 percent of parents surveyed said they would like complementary and alternative (CAM) medical treatments for their children to be added to it.
This was documented in a poll conducted by Prof. Ephraim Lev and colleagues at the University of Haifa.
Many complementary medicine techniques have not been scientifically proven to be effective, but they remain very popular, partly because conventional medicine cannot always provide relief and since the placebo effect of people thinking they are being helped is powerful.
The survey published on Sunday was carried out by the university, Clalit Health Services – the largest of Israel’s four public health funds – and the family medicine department at the Technion’s Medical Faculty.
“If in the past, there was a clear division between alternative [complementary] medicine and conventional medicine, now, most parents are interested in integrative medicine that combines them both,” Lev said.
They survey queried 599 parents of children under the age of 18; 319 were questioned during visits to conventional pediatric clinics and 280 at complementary medicine clinics.
Nine out of 10 parents in the two groups said that the quality of the relationship between the doctor and the patient is vital and that the quality of communications between them can help in diagnosis.
“The parents’ main expectation is that the doctor refers the necessary patient to a complementary medicine practitioner and be actively involved in the treatment the child needs.”
Asked to comment, Dr. Menachem Oberbaum, a physician and head of the integrative medicine unit at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, said the conclusions are not surprising.
“Most of the pediatric visits to physicians are for recurrent problems that are not life threatening,” he said. “These are problems for which conventional treatment is insufficient and of limited value. A large number of patients, using CAM for these types of complaints, are cured, without getting into the question if it is due to placebo or a real effect. The sick patient does not usually mind how the cure is achieved, if via placebo or a real effect. This is the reason why these patients continue visiting CAM practitioners despite the negative pressure by the conventional [medicine establishment].”
Oberbaum, who does not accept unproven CAM techniques and believes some can be harmful, continued that “in the long run, including CAM in the conventional repertoire will lower the health expenses. A recurrent middle-ear infection patient who visits a physician every two months in the first three years of his life and who swallows a large amount of expensive medications will visit a CAM provider two to four times and will be cured. This makes CAM much less expensive in the long run.”
The Health Ministry said that later this year, the public will for the first time be able to propose treatments for inclusion in the basket of health technologies, instead of only the drug and medical device manufacturers and importers. If they wish, people can propose various CAM treatments, but they should remember that the amount available from the Treasury is limited while the proposals reach billions of shekels.