Healing Traditions: Alternative Medicine and the Health Professions

By Bonnie Blair O’Connor | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
Implications for the
Health Professions

The immediate message of the foregoing chapters is that nonbiomedical health belief systems are alive and well; that they are in very common use by all kinds of people; and that health professionals should ask patients about them and expect to find them among their patients’ healing resources. The larger message this phenomenon evokes is that patients are authoritative agents of their own health care,1 and this social fact needs to be recognized and taken seriously by health professionals. Patients evaluate health care options in a range often much broader in scope than that of the conventional medical system. They make decisions on the authority of their own knowledge and experience—which differ from the knowledge and experience of health professionals—and they do so notwithstanding professional disagreement with many of their choices and conclusions. They pursue the therapeutic goals most valued by themselves, whether or not these coincide with the goals most valued by clinicians. Patients, in the end, not health professionals, determine the actions they will take with respect to health and illness, including when, how, and from whom they seek care, and how they pursue the recommendations of their various care providers. “Patient” is a small part of most people’s identity, and not generally the one that supplies the main frame of reference within which important decisions about life are made.

Conventional medicine has reached a watershed in the confluence of many streams of change: a rising public disaffection with conventional medicine and its practitioners (related to much deeper social currents; see Freidson 1987; Levin, Katz and Holst 1979); public demands for a broadening range of participatory rights in the clinical relationship; legal recognition of patients’ rights to self-determination in acceptance or rejection of medically recommended treatments; the changed profile of health problems in the population at large; rapid technological

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