Wednesday, September 14, 2005

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Many doctors are interested in learning more about alternative
therapies, according to Brian Berman, M.D., a family practitioner with
the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. Berman
says his own interest began when "I found that I wasn't getting all the
results that I would have liked with conventional medicine, especially
in patients with chronic diseases.

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Alternative medicine is often described as any medical practice or
intervention that:
lacks sufficient documentation of its safety and effectiveness against
specific diseases and conditions
is not generally taught in U.S. medical schools
is not generally reimbursable by health insurance providers.
According to a study in the Jan. 28, 1993, New England Journal of
Medicine, 1 in 3 patients used alternative therapy in 1990. More than
80 percent of those who use alternative therapies used conventional
medicine at the same time, but did not tell their doctors about the
alternative treatments. The study's authors concluded this lack of
communication between doctors and patients "is not in the best
interest of the patients, since the use of unconventional therapy,
especially if it is totally unsupervised, may be harmful." The study
concluded that medical doctors should ask their patients about any
use of unconventional treatment as part of a medical history.

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Many physicians believe it is not unreasonable for someone in the last
stages of an incurable cancer to try something unproven. But, for
example, if a woman with an early stage of breast cancer wanted to
try shark cartilage (an unproven treatment that may inhibit the growth
of cancer tumors, currently undergoing clinical trials), those same
doctors would probably say, "Don't do it," because there are so many
effective conventional treatments.
Jacobs warns that, "If an alternative practitioner does not want to
work with a regular doctor, then he's suspect."

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"It is best not to abandon conventional therapy when there is a known
response [in the effectiveness of that therapy]," says Joseph Jacobs,
M.D., former director of the National Institutes of Health's Office of
Alternative Medicine, which was established in October 1992. As an
example he cites childhood leukemia, which has an 80 percent cure
rate with conventional therapy.
But what if conventional therapy holds little promise?