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Connecting Traditional Medicine with Complementary Therapies

A Review of the Integrative Heath Convention

By Earle Abrahamson, MTI Chair

Gerry Andrews, Earle Abrahamson, Jennie Parke Matheson

Gerry Andrews (MTI member) and myself (we are pictured here with MTI Tutor Jennie Parke Matheson), presented at the inaugural Integrative Health Convention on the 13/14 October in London. The convention was organised by Dr Toh Wong and Dr Naveed Akhtar, both of whom are medical practitioners who share a vision for the inclusion of complementary medicine into traditional healthcare practices.

Integrative Health is a contentious topic, one that seeks to integrate the two often conflicting worlds of therapy and healthcare. Advocates of traditional medical practices are sceptical of the evidence and therapeutic effects of complementary medicine and argue that while it may be a nice to have, there is limited support for its effectiveness in the treatment of injury or illness. On the flip side, patients/clients report healing following the receipt of complementary therapy.

I guess the real question is who gets to be integrated and who does the integrating?

The convention attempted to connect multiple thoughts, practices and areas of expertise, through discussions and presentations. This provided a learning environment that enabled attendees to consider value and outcomes. From a massage therapy perspective, it was interesting to witness how massage is used and described by other professionals, who often silently encourage and acknowledge its value in managing healthcare.

Many of the presenters related their topics to how best we, as a healthcare profession, need to be mindful of the range of practices that interact and influence patient/client outcomes.

The convention further sought to recognise how commissioning groups ought to focus on taking some of the patient demand off the NHS. For complementary medical practices to be seen as valuable and necessary for the promotion of health, GPs needed to be convinced of the efficacy of the treatments on offer. For this to work, we as a community of complementary practitioners, need influence GPs to refer patients to us. How do we change mindsets, and work towards a culture of inclusion? What role does social prescription play in enabling patients/clients to decide on treatment choices? We have reached a point where working collaboratively and integrating traditional and complementary medical practices appears to be a healthy option for multiple reasons:

  • it enables patients/clients to make better choices about their healthcare
  • it has the potential to offload work demands on healthcare providers
  • it could reduce the waiting time for medical consultations
  • it has the potential to open a portal for medical screening and early referral.

To enable these to options, insurers need to have a vested interest in supporting a range of healthcare practices and providing sufficient cover options for patients/clients to consider.

The convention was the start of the journey, we now need to consider the pathways towards future success. As a professional association, MTI interacts with multiple healthcare providers in an attempt to influence and shape policy, demonstrate value and evidence for our practices, and promote standards of training and care that conform to rigorous codes of conduct.

Our conference next year is focussed on growing the business of massage. In so doing, we need to consider not simply growing, but remodelling how we grow in concert with our healthcare neighbours and campaigners.

I conclude with the words of Viktor Frankl who wrote: “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves”.

Comments: 2 (Add)

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Jenny on behalf of MTI on October 19 2018 at 12:25

Thanks Gerry, great food for thought, look forward to hearing more!

Gerry Andrews on October 18 2018 at 14:25

I'd would like to second what Earle has said above.

This inaugural convention was an excellent starting point to help us move towards a more integrative and holistic appreciation of health and wellbeing. By bringing together the allopathic medical world with the complementary therapy world, Dr Toh Wong and Dr Naveed Akhtar succeeded in opening eyes, hearts and minds, and making us all think that much more about what we do.

The various discussions about using complementary therapies to ease the burden on the NHS suggest this is going to be a keen area of debate of which the MTI and we as therapists need to be a part. We will be continuing this debate as part of the MTI Conference next year.

I am in the throes of writing up my own thoughts and experiences of this fascinating weekend which included some invaluable insights from a GP's perspective about why they don't refer to complementary therapies and also what could be done to encourage them to do so. I will be writing an article about this very shortly!

I agree that we do need to think about what we do differently to fit the situation. But perhaps there is also a need for a PARADIGM SHIFT in how we deal with health and wellbeing?

We could be thinking about how we promote good health and wellbeing (and take a truly holistic view of a person - body-mind-emotions-spirit as one), rather than focusing on how we treat ill-health. And how we could be using other models of working, eg. social prescribing, and community health 'triaging' to make alternatives available to people. To quote Henry Ford and Tony Robbins, "If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always got." This first Integrative Health Convention has invited us all to think differently.

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