Times change; the pendulum swings. Once, not so many years ago, mainstream health providers and insurers viewed all alternative and complementary practitioners as quacks.
In less than 10 years, the pendulum reversed direction. Today's alternative and complementary practitioners not only treat patients insured by leading managed care organizations, but also serve as gatekeepers, directing patients to specialists, or not, according to their understanding of clinical status.
The growing popularity of alternative and complementary practitioners is based, at least in part, on their tendency to spend more time with patients and, typically, to reflect a sense of caring. Patients may find this missing in mainstream medicine, particularly in specialty practices such as oncology.
Patients see alternative practitioners as being more like the family doctor of 50 years ago, the physician who knew and cared about people in a pre-high tech, prespecialization era. The sense that the practitioner cares is often more important to patients than the practitioner's technical skills or equipment.
We may view this as an unsound basis on which to make health care decisions. But the actions of patients in large numbers indicate that they disagree.
The perceived differences between types of practitioners appear sufficient to motivate patient decisions and help explain the busy family practice office of naturopaths, chiropractors, and other non-MD therapists who offer alternative, first-line health care.