Alternative Medical Treatments: Five Steps to Assure a Wise Decision


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It's well after midnight and you can't sleep. The little Mariachi men running around inside your brain continue to taunt you with shouts of glee and rapid-fire strums of guitars. You numbly flick through television channels and a vision of beauty appears. An infomercial for an alternative insomnia treatment beckons you. Stunned, you let the remote fall from your hand and rush to grab the phone. Unfortunately, you trip over the remote control and take a headlong dive to the floor, severely spraining your wrist in the fall. Not to worry. Your toe clicked the TV station and a new, late night infomercial slowly drifts along your auditory pathways. It promises relief from sprains virtually overnight. You reach for the phone. . .

Is this the best way to select alternative medical treatments? Though the infomercial producers, and possibly your credit card company, will love you, there is a much better way. Alternative medical care is chosen for many reasons, including cost, the desire to avoid medication side effects and, at times, simple lack of success with traditional treatments. While we are fortunate to have access to a wide array of alternative treatments, it's critical that we choose wisely. Follow these five steps to assure you make a well-founded, thoughtful selection of alternative medical treatment.

1. Be Specific. When you begin your search for alternative treatment you should attempt to be as specific about your symptoms as possible. A “stomach ache" is going to be virtually impossible to treat. But, a sharp pain in the lower abdomen, just to the left of the centerline will help you begin your search. When you take your car to the shop you anticipate the car mechanic is likely to ask, “What's the problem?" You're ready to answer because you've thought about it and rehearsed your explanation. Give the same care and forethought to your physical symptoms before you begin your research.

2. Study Symptoms First. Before you race headlong in pursuit of a cure for what ails you, pay attention to your symptoms. Yes, the selfsame symptoms you so succinctly identified in the first step. This step serves two important purposes in your pursuit. First, this serves to confirm you are on the right track. While a tingling sensation in your toes may be your starting point, further investigation may cause you to select the neurologist over the podiatrist. It's an important distinction.

The second purpose, once you've confirmed you are correct in your assessment, is to provide an overview of current treatments. Pay particular attention to emerging treatment trends and research at this step. Knowing where the mainline medical community is moving on the treatment front gives you insight as you search for a reasonable alternative.

3. Peruse Traditional Treatments Next. Apply the knowledge you gained in the above step to fine tune your search at this stage. Above, you paid attention to traditional treatment trends and research. Narrow your focus in this step to the traditional treatments that seemed most reasonable and appealing. If you spotted research that pointed to a fresh approach, visit the providers website and track down more information.

At this step you are still laying the groundwork. Don't yield to temptation and begin your search for alternative treatments quite yet. A little time spent here offers a great deal of protection when making your final treatment choice.

4. Dive In. OK - you've been appropriately patient. You've studied your symptoms, confirmed you are correct in the specific area of your concern and educated yourself, at least on a cursory level, about the traditional medical approaches. Now, you are ready to assess the alternatives with a reasonable degree of proficiency. As an added benefit of your study, you've already begun to weed out the alternatives that are simply too far afield for your liking. All the while you studied the traditional symptom analyses and treatment options, your subconscious was hard at work storing valuable bite of medical information. Think of it as a built in quality assurance assessment tool - it will come in handy.

A special word of, not caution exactly, but due care certainly, is in order concerning personal testimonials. You've studied and, thankfully, will spot outright charlatans in a flash. However, the well intentioned but mistaken are much more difficult to identify. These are people who may have begun their search for a remedy in much the same fashion as have you. While their claims should not be summarily discarded, they should be used as starting points only. If what they claim intrigues you, terrific! Subject their claims to each step in the above process and confirm the information for yourself.

5. Ask “What If?" This is a sober question, and it applies to both traditional and alternative treatments. Once you have selected a treatment, you must ask, “What if I'm wrong?" What if the research you did online was erroneous, or the sites you relied upon less than trustworthy. What are the potential complications you face from selecting this path of treatment. For alternative methods, this may include progression of a disease that is curable by traditional means. For traditional medicine this may mean a lifetime of unwanted side effects from toxic medications.

When faced with difficult treatment choices, there is no guarantee you will make the correct decision. But, by investing some time in study and preparation, you increase your odds of success tremendously.

Now that you've done the hard work, sit back and relax. Close your eyes and let your mind wander - the Mariachis are ready to take the stage.

Tim Anderson is a freelance writer who has a special interest in medical topics. Visit his blog at


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