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Are Consumers That Dumb? The Wall Street Journal Thinks We Are

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An inflammatory article appeared last week in the Wall Street Journal called “The Touch that Doesn’t Heal .” It deserves a thorough reading and some impassioned letters to the editor. The article, written by Steve Salerno, claims that “Americans pay billions for alternative medicine—with nothing to show for it.”

The article categorizes the entire practice of integrative medicine as “bypassing the customary peer review, controlled studies and other hallmarks of sound medicine.” That is not accurate. Moreover, Mr. Salerno points to vested interests in complementary and alternative medicine pushing their agendas and filling their pocketbooks, while failing to mention that the vested interests of pharmaceutical drug makers and medical device manufacturers have had a profound negative influence on medical school education, research, medical journal publication, and clinical practice standard-of-care.

Mr. Salerno, who authored the book Sham: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless and blogs at, makes a valid point that a substantial percentage of Americans pay out of their own pockets to use complementary and alternative therapies. However, he fails to acknowledge the reason they do so—because the current allopathic medical system often fails them when they face chronic disease.

An overwhelming 78% of our nation’s healthcare dollars go to the treatment of chronic disease, according to the May 2005 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. This makes those with chronic health challenges especially vulnerable to unscrupulous businesses and practitioners, whether they are allopathic or alternative in their approach, eager to sell their wares and services. Even government sources of educational medical literature are skewed by vested interests.
We can all agree the system is broken. The American consumer lacks objective scientific data on which to base healthcare decisions, and when studies are done, they are frequently so skewed by vested interests that one doesn’t know whom to trust. The current system pushes pills and procedures while time-tested modalities like homeopathy, acupuncture, herbs and other therapies are ignored. We waste billions of dollars and fail to address lifestyle education, which could dramatically reduce the financial toll on our nation’s healthcare.

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