Woo: The future of American medicine? (revisited)

As a blogger, every so often I come across a link, file it away, and then when I look through my link collection looking for topics to blog about I rediscover the link but totally forget where I got it from. This is just one of these times. However, since it’s less than three weeks until the event being promoted, I thought it might be entertaining to write about it. Unfortunately, it requires revisiting a topic that I’ve written about a few times before, albeit not recently. I’m referring to the American Medical Student Association and its embrace of woo, i which it has even gone so far as running in essence a summer school for woo. Somehow I missed it last year, but apparently AMSA has even gone so far as to sponsor an International Integrative Medicine Day. Apparently, every year on January 23, AMSA sponsors events to promote awareness of integrating pseudoscience with science. Last year’s press release about the event tells all:

In response to the current directions of rationalized health care management, the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) hopes to contribute to a movement that will lead to the creation of a patient-centered, integrative and holistic health-care system that preserves the patient-healer relationship and is economically and environmentally sustainable by inviting all to celebrate International Integrative Medicine (IIM) Day on January 23, 2010.

Ah, yes. It’s all there. Check out the buzzwords. “Holistic.” That one really irritates me. A good primary care physician practicing science-based medicine, be he or she a family practitioner or internist, is a holistic practitioner. “Patient-healer” relationship, which is just a more woo-ful term for the patient-doctor relationship. That’s all it means, but it is a lot more touchy-feely sounding, isn’t it? It gets better, though:

Integrative medicine is an approach to medicine that emphasizes the importance of using all appropriate therapies, self-care, patient empowerment, addressing the whole person (body, mind and spirit) and fostering a healthy life style. Research shows that cardiac issues, diabetes and obesity can be alleviated and even prevented through the use of integrative modalities such as a nutritious diet, physical activity, stress management and healthy lifestyle choices.

Here we go again. Once again, this is the co-opting of perfectly valid science-based modalities (diet, exercise, healthy lifestyle choices) by woo-mongers and making them somehow “alternative,” “complementary,” or “integrative”–or whatever other word du jour to describe pseudoscientific medicine. I’ll give AMSA credit, though. They’re slicker than they’ve been in the past. This time around, they don’t mention CAM or “alternative” medicine, at least not on the International Integrative Medicine Day website. However, elsewhere on the AMSA website there is a link to this Integrative Medicine Day website, which complains a whole set of toolkits to organize International Integrative Medicine Day events and an advertisement for the 2011 event that reads thusly:

Who We Are
We are an international team of physicians, students, institutions and community members whose goal it is to inspire worldwide dialog, education, collaboration, research initiatives and programming about medicine that is patient-centered, holistic, economically and environmentally sustainable, and conscious of integrating different global medical systems.

Past IIM Day Events

  • Chicago hosted the 6th annual Integrate Chicago Conference at Rush Medical College.150 medical students, health sciences students, faculty, and healthcare practitioners learned about IM. The overall feedback was 4.36 out of 5.
  • Oregon Collaborative for Integrative Medicine hosted 100 students from Portland’s four health professional schools at an IM evening social.
  • The Dinacharya Institute and the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona offered discounts for their IM services and courses.
  • University of Pittsburgh hosted a conference with keynote speaker Dr. Mikhail Kogan of George Washington University who presented to 45 attendees on evidence based IM approaches to geriatrics.
  • IIM Day 2010 Poster shared the prize for the Student Research Presentation of the Year

Fortunately, the numbers appear to be small, as far as attendees and sites. At least they were last year. I don’t see a press release from AMSA yet about this year’s conference; so I don’t yet know how large the festivities will be this year. I do know, however, that apparently students at one of my old stompin’ grounds, the University of Chicago, have apparently managed to join the party by hosting their own International Integrative Medicine Day event:

Dr. Geeta Maker-Clark, an Integrative Family Physician at NorthShore hospital, will give an introduction to the field of Integrative Medicine, which seeks to integrate Western medicine with Complementary and Alternative Medicine. She will focus on nutrition and the anti-inflammatory diet, and how using food as medicine is a large part of the integrative approach. Food will be provided.

You know, back in the 1990s, back when I did my fellowship at the University of Chicago, it was a hard-core, science-based place. I still know quite a few people there, and it’s still by and large a hard-core, butt-kicking, science-based place. Unfortunately, though, it appears to have started to allow a crack to form in the wall keeping the pseudoscience about. That crack appears to be in one of U. of C.’s affiliates, namely the NorthShore University HealthSystem, complete with Oriental medicine and acupuncture, herbalism, and yoga and meditation.

Damn. Even the University of Chicago isn’t safe from the infiltration of quackademic medicine. How long, I wonder, before the woo proliferates and makes it to the main campus? Oh wait. Too late.

Having learned of AMSA’s promotion of an International Integrative Medicine Day, I wondered if AMSA was as dedicated as it had been in the past to promoting quackademic medicine. So I went back to the AMSA website and did a bit of searching. It appears that AMSA’s summer school for woo is still there, scheduled for June 19-24, 2011 at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts, complete with two faculty, one of whom is an advisor for The Integrator Blog and a second year medical student who believes in homeopathy and energy medicine. Then there’s the Naturopathic Medicine Interest Group, dedicated to–what else?–naturopathy and to forging relationships with the Naturopathic Medical Student Association. Then there’s a link to AMSA National Integrative Medicine and Wellness Webinars.

Yep. The woo is still strong with AMSA.

What I’d like to see a lot more of are medical student clubs to counter the growing influence of CAM in medical school. I’ve heard scattered reports of science-based medicine clubs popping up here and there. I’ve even heard rumblings of such a club possibly forming at the medical school where I’m faculty. I’ve even offered to be the faculty advisor. I hope it comes to pass. Still, it’s nothing as sustained and nothing as widespread as the sort of student activism in the service of pseudoscience.

Unfortunately, AMSA appears to be leading the way. The wrong way.