Systems of medicine

Dr. T. Jacob John, a noted epidemiologist, public health expert, and past Chairman of the Expert Advisory Group on Polio Eradication for GOI speaks about why two very different systems of medicine in India cannot merge to become one wholesome method of clinical practice.

Every system of medicine works for a common cause- to enable the unwell to get well. So, if the cause was the same, would it not be perfect if conventional and logical restorative frameworks were incorporated into one wholesome therapeutic solution? Under such a system a doctor would know all the methods of treatment and the patient could be treated with the best method possible, rather than the patient picking a specific system of treatment.

While, this may seem like the idyllic setup, expecting vastly different therapeutic frameworks to blend into one comprehensive system would practically be impossible. Conventional and modern medicine cannot intersect. To comprehend this crude reality, we must know where these therapeutic systems meet and where they divulge based on clear distinctions among them.

The conventional way

The common denominator for all medical systems is to seek clarifications as to why some fell prey to a disease, but others don’t, and arrive at specific cures for sicknesses. All systems have ideas, opinions and beliefs, and numerous diagnostic modalities.

Three traditional systems that have survived the test of time are Indian, Chinese, and Homeopathy, and may be collectively termed as ‘traditional medicine’.

Homeopathy works on the fundamental principle that atoms of chemicals that trigger symptoms like those experienced during sicknesses, given in minute and non-toxic amounts, is the cure. The system works on the rule ‘similia similibus curentur’ (likes cure likes), different from allopathy (synonym for scientific medicine) which believes that antidotes cure ailments.

The Chinese system works on the principle of Qi, energy that flows through ‘meridians’ connecting all organs and tissues, and sickness would only result if there is a block in this channel. The common remedies deployed during sickness are Acupuncture, Acupressure, massages, herbal medicine, exercise, and special diets.

Ayurveda follows the Thridosha principle that believes that illness is caused when there is an imbalance in the three Doshas- Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. The prescribed cures were homemade concoctions of medicinal plants, oil massages, specialized diets, and a deworming schedule.

It is relatively unclear as to how these ideas and therapeutics came to be two-three centuries back, however, they are well admired for their systematization and numerous treatment victories.

Modern medicine

Europeans had fallen behind, until two-three centuries back. Modern medicine grew in Germany, Austria, France, Britain, and the U.S. during the eighteenth and nineteenth century through an iterative and combined process. Normal sciences (physical and biological, including microbiology, natural chemistry, and hereditary qualities) with their strategies for request and accentuation on target influenced its development, which proceeded into the twentieth century, and is continuing.

Modern medicine questions principles, concepts, and therapeutics through research, and that is what science is about.

Modern medicine comes attached with a ‘price and prize’, the price being that any doctor’s diagnosis and method of treatment can be openly questioned and tested against system norms, and the prize being the success of the treatment and subsequent benefit for the patient. Carelessness and negligence can result in the doctor being penalized.

The difference

In conventional frameworks, the principles and therapeutics are fixed. Understudies acknowledge them as the only way to becoming expert healers of that system. The scientific system is open to change and validation and believes that every physician is accountable to present evidence-backed research, diagnosis, and treatment options. All diseases have been recorded, numbered, and listed in the International Classification of Diseases, the 10th version being in use now and 11th in the making.

The patient also has the privilege to ask the physician if the diagnosis and treatment given is in tandem with what’s listed in books and periodicals. On the off chance, that a doctor has deviated from norms, he/she could be at risk of being sued for malpractice and medical negligence.

Conventional and scientific systems of medicine follow different definitions of ‘truth’.

The former believes that the truth is what is taught and should be followed unanimously, without any further research. The latter believes that the truth can only be validated through research and evidence which can be reconfirmed by any individual repeating the experiment.

Question of responsibility

To put it simply, scientific medicine requires accountability from doctors for making diagnosis and choosing treatment options. Traditional systems do not follow this concept. A physician of traditional medicine only treats patients as best as he/she could but is not accountable for effectiveness of the treatment. Luckily, for patients, most traditional treatments are relatively harmless and don’t put them at too much risk. Modern medicine, on the other hand is too vast and complex to be mastered by one individual, which is why it branches out into different specialities and areas of expertise.

The question is, ‘does a doctor of any medical system have to believe in its principles or could treatment just be possible without following research and correct protocol?’

Since the teachings and evidence can sometimes be conflicting, not all of them can be accepted as valid by one individual. This is the reason that conventional and modern medicine cannot be integrated. However, a physician can learn one or all systems, but would they be open to following the one in which they have no faith in? Could a cleric of one religion adopt the customs of another and work as its minister too?

Disclaimer- The article was originally published in The Hindu . It is adapted here from the original version with the permission from the author.

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