Soapbox

Medicine and natural nutrition should co-exist, driven by consumers

By Carl Gibson, chief executive of Complementary Medicines Australia

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock
© iStock

Related tags: Complementary medicines, Medicine, Australia

Australians will soon be taking greater charge of their own healthcare, thanks to a number of changes occurring across the healthcare environment. 

From personalised nutrition plans and home testing to the development of wearable health trackers, consumers are benefitting each day from a whole range of innovations.

Carl

Greater access to information and advances in smartphone technology are even helping people get off their couches—even if it is only to hunt-down invisible monsters. 

Moreover, the trends that aren’t being driven by technological advances are being driven by weight of consumer demand—as Australia’s complementary medicines sector is experiencing.

Seventy per cent of Australians already use complementary medicines—or to put it conservatively, the same number as the entire populations of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, ACT, Tasmania and the Northern Territory added together. Quite simply, the use of complementary medicines in Australia is widespread and continues to grow.

Life expectancy is relatively high in Australia, at 81.2 years compared to the OECD average of 80.2 years, and overall, it has to be said that we have one of the highest performing health systems in the world. 

However, in common with a number of other developed countries, Australia is also experiencing an ageing population and increasing rates of chronic and complex health conditions, including diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. This can only foreshadow higher healthcare costs in the future unless there is a focus shift towards early prevention, encouraging healthy and active ageing, and supporting individuals to take control over their health. 

It makes it all the more disappointing when a small fringe group, led by conventional medical professionals, uses a government review such as the current Review of Pharmacy Remuneration and Regulation to attempt to discredit complementary medicines and natural healthcare. 

Most of us would agree that healthcare choices should be based as much as possible on sound scientific evidence, but any blanket statement that complementary medicines aren’t supported by scientific evidence simply cannot be accepted. 

A quick search of PubMed for any particular popular herb will produce dozens of scientific studies linking these products to research on a wide range of health conditions. Increasingly, the use of natural products is being supported by credible, peer-reviewed research. 

Besides this, any reasonable discussion about evidence to support the best decisions in healthcare should also acknowledge that not everything that is practised in conventional medicine is firmly based on evidence. The fact is that all health disciplines need to continue to increase their evidence base. 

And please don’t ask me to accept that over 10,000 years of natural healthcare practice and traditional experience should even be considered as a “lack of evidence​”. 

Australians want to play an active role in staying healthy and living longer, and I believe that they are looking for health professionals to be partners, sharing their knowledge but also encouraging two-way communication and respecting patients’ autonomy and choices. 

Conventional and complementary medicine can and should co-exist within a health environment. Expecting anything less limits the possibilities of our future healthcare and fails to acknowledge that the consumer is already sitting in the driving seat.  

  • Carl Gibson has been chief executive of Complementary Medicines Australia since September 2013. His career spans over 25 years in regulation, public policy and campaign communications. 

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