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Defining and Assessing Alternative Medicine Practices

Timothy Gorski, MD
JAMA. 1996;276(3):195-196. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03540030029017.
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To the Editor.  —In the Resident Forum calling for resident physicians to look more favorably on "alternative medicine," Dr Dyer1 equates the term with "treatments and practices that have not gained wide acceptance or have not yet had adequate scientific research to be considered standard medical treatment." However, doing so fails to distinguish what is usually meant by alternative medicine from legitimate emerging medical science, which includes, for example, the use of methotrexate to treat ectopic pregnancy. It would be more accurate to say that alternative medicine refers to treatments and practices that are claimed to be safe and effective but remain unproven (or in many cases disproven) or based on unscientific ideas about health and disease (ie, medical quackery).Thus, while spinal manipulation has been shown to have benefits for acute musculoskeletal-related low back pain in adults,2,3 it hardly seems appropriate, much less ethical, to spend scarce


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