Soc Sci Med. 1987 ; 24(2): 169-75.
Evaluation of holistic medicine.
As an increasingly informed public becomes more and more disillusioned with the failure of scientific medicine to live up to its promises and to fulfill popular expectations, attention has been turning to 'holistic,' 'traditional,' 'alternative' or 'complementary' medicine. Forms of medical treatment such as acupuncture, homeopathy, and ayurvedic medicine have infrequently been rigorously evaluated. This paper reviews the traditional structures of clinical and economic evaluation of health care, and then describes a particular set of specific problems that would be encountered in applying these techniques to 'holistic' medicine under the headings 'reductionism' (bias from excluding certain categories of effects), 'taxonomic difficulties' (problems inherent in the choice of diagnostic criteria), and the 'logical basis for comparison' (procedural difficulties). Various methods for comparing the results of different schools of medical thought are suggested and evaluated.