Alternative to what?

“You know what they call alternative medicine that’s been proved to work? -Medicine.” -Tim Minchin

I hate alternative medicine. Absolutely despise it.  I hate it not because of some belief that our current system of treating patients is flawless, nor because of a belief that medicine should be defined by pharmaceuticals, nor that all our current treatments are evidence-based and all-encompassing. No, the reason I hate ‘alternative’ medicine is that it implies a separation where there absolutely is none. It’s a meaningless, confused misconception that splits a common goal into two ambiguous non-categories. The goal of physicians is to care for patients and no concerned doctor is going to deliberately exclude any evidence based treatment at the risk of harming a patient.

Wikipedia solves this dilemma by simply defining alternative medicine as a treatment that is not backed by evidence. While a good little jab at the entity, I think it misses the point. I hear licensed rational healthcare professionals use the term ‘alternative’ in a non-condescending way all the time. Honestly, alternative to what? Alternative to evidence? That doesn’t sound very reasonable.

A common tactic to promote alternative treatments is to say that there simply hasn’t been enough research to prove whether they work or not. But this is absolutely not the case for most treatments. For example, we have spent mind-boggling amounts of money researching every last condition for acupuncture and yet it still comes up with minimal to no efficacy. The fact is, most of the alternative medicine treatments, even if we ignore the confusing term ‘alternative’, simply don’t qualify to be called medicine in the first place. They are mumbo jumbo. Alternative quackery.

I propose that we completely abandon the term alternative medicine and disband the movement. Non-pharmacological treatments and supplements seem to dominate the ‘alternative’ medicine movement but why rebrand them? Why not just call them non-pharmacological treatments? For plant-based remedies such as ginger root for gastrointestinal distress, describe it as herbal remedy. For treatments that have evidence stacked against them, such as homeopathy, let’s not do them the justice of calling them medicine in the first place. Call it quackery or pseudoscience or marketing scam. Hell, call it what you want, just don’t call it medicine.

If you have a reason why you think we should maintain the term ‘alternative medicine’, as always, I invite you to let me know why in the comments!

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