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Medics warm to alternatives

The Académie Nationale de Médecine has accepted treatments like acupuncture, chiropractice and osteopathy have benefits

IN the past, alternative remedies have been rejected by the French medical profession as ‘quack therapies’. Now the government advisory body, Académie Nationale de Médecine, has accepted that some have a use alongside scientifically proven medicines.

Those now recognised by the Académie include acupuncture, chiropractice and osteopathy, hypnosis and t’ai chi. One of the authors of a report compiled for the Académie, rheumatologist Daniel Bontoux, said alternative therapies were “useful in a small number of situations”. These included pain relief where drugs were no longer helping.

They could also be useful with the secondary effects of chemotherapy – nausea and vomiting – thus avoiding the need for more drugs. Dr Xavier Deau, vice-president of the Conseil National de l’Ordre des Médecins, said 65% of patients had already tried complementary therapies, either with or without the knowledge of their GP.

It ranged from people seeking hypnosis to quit smoking, osteopathy to ease back problems and homeopathic remedies to ward off a cold. Apparently, four out of 10 people will turn to alternative medicines at least once a year. Of more than 300 alternative therapies available, Dr Deau said the European Council of Medical Orders only recognised those that had been subject to scientific study: that meant acupuncture, osteopathy and hypnosis.

He said the Académie had belatedly recognised some complementary therapies, but the Paris hospitals AP-HP had done better with a full report. “They showed that, in certain conditions, they could help: alongside chemotherapy, for example; with cancers, with motor neurone disease; with multiple sclerosis; with grave neurological problems.”

The alternative therapy community, however, feels Western medicine concentrates on symptoms – not the underlying cause. GP and acupuncturist Dr Joël Spiroux, in Haute-Normandie, said the Académie was “stuck in the past”.

He said: “Our medical schools can still teach modern-day Western medicine, but must also include all that has gone before: the skills of our forefathers. That means herbalism, Chinese medicine, massage…But what has happened is a very good first move. In France, there are many hospitals and clinics that use acupuncture to help in births.”

Generally, complementary medicine is not well covered by state Cpam health insurance. Homeopathy, osteopathy and acupuncture are covered, but only if the act is carried out by a doctor. It is reimbursed at 70% of the normal tariff of €23. With acupuncture that can be as high as €80. Homeopathic medicines are covered at only 30%. Thermal cures are also reimbursed, with medical care covered at 70% of the normal tariff and the costs of hydrothérapie at 65%.

Around 30 complementary insurance and mutuelles offer help, but some are only up to about €100 a year. If you are likely to use alter-native medicine regularly you should look for a special contract rate. Some, like Bank Paribas sub-sidiary Cardif, offer a contract giving the freedom to consult alternative therapists during the course of a year.

Photo: Fotolia/Dan Race

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