Complementary medicine studied

Dunedin School of Medicine senior lecturer Dr Monika Clark-Grill (left) and medical herbalist...
Dunedin School of Medicine senior lecturer Dr Monika Clark-Grill (left) and medical herbalist Sandra Clair study a 1588 medical text, which was the reference book of doctors at the time and discusses more than 3000 herbs. Many of the herbs it mentions are used in modern medicine, such as digitalis, found in the foxglove plant held by Ms Clair. Photo by Linda Robertson.
The place of complementary medicine in primary health care has been considered by GPs in a course at the University of Otago.

The course, the first in New Zealand, was held at Dunedin School of Medicine.

Senior lecturer Dr Monika Clark-Grill said there had always been a historic split between conventional medicine and complementary and alternative medicine in New Zealand, but with more people using complementary health treatments, it was becoming "a must" for GPs to have knowledge of the field.

While people "naturally go to doctors when they need a diagnosis or to be treated", many also went to complementary health practitioners about long-term health issues, to support other medical therapy or to maintain general wellness.

One GP was surprised to discover, when she asked her patients about it while doing the course, that at least 80% of them were "taking something or seeing somebody".

She had no previous knowledge of complementary health treatments and had since decided to collaborate with practitioners.

The course introduced GPs to complementary treatments such as herbal medicine, Reiki, traditional Chinese medicine and homeopathy.

It also looked at the high use of complementary medicine, research, and regulation and funding of complementary medicine in New Zealand and other countries.

In Switzerland this year, five complementary medicines, including homeopathy and herbal medicine, became publicly funded treatments after a public referendum.

Dr Clark-Grill said she had done an Austrian postgraduate diploma in homeopathy after her medical training.

In Austria, only medical doctors were allowed to practise homeopathy.

Those who completed the course in Dunedin said it opened them up to new ideas, Dr Clark-Grill said.

"There was quite strong discussion around the science . . .

"There was some scepticism at times, but also a lot of trying to understand different perspectives."

In 2004, a desire for better information about complementary medicine led to the formation of the Integrative Health Trust Otago.

The trust includes GPs, complementary health practitioners and members of the public.

It is in the process of creating a website with a directory of health care practitioners in Otago and the treatments they offer.

When it is launched, hopefully next March, people will be able to look up profiles of practitioners, from GPs, complementary health practitioners and physiotherapists to midwives.

It is believed the website will be the first of its kind in New Zealand, and perhaps the world, Dr Clark-Grill said.

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