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Wednesday, June 23, 2021

An integrative approach to healthcare

When I think of Switzerland, my mind conjures up images of snow clad peaks, bubbling pots of fondue, Swiss Army knives and delicious chocolate. Yet within this country famous for its impartiality and civic order, lurks a radically progressive model of healthcare.

In 2017, the Swiss government recognised that complementary medicine modalities including homeopathy, traditional Chinese Medicine and herbal medicine, met sufficiently high criteria of quality and safety to satisfy the requirements of the Federal Act on Health Insurance. This ruling guaranteed Swiss citizens universal access to complementary medicine.

Surprisingly, the sky did not fall in. In fact, the Swiss Society of General Internal Medicine and the Swiss Medical Association, along with the major political parties, backed the interior ministry’s decision. Not surprising really, given that in Switzerland it is commonplace for GPs and specialists to prescribe natural remedies like herbs and homeopathic medicine.

So, how are the Swiss faring? They’re very well thank-you! In fact, they enjoy the second highest life expectancy in the world (just pipped by Japan).

Contrast that to the situation in Australia, where our government is, on 1 April, preparing to axe health fund rebates for a swathe of complementary medicines including herbal medicine, homeopathy, naturopathy, Pilates, tai chi and yoga. It seems that, whilst the Australian public has embraced complementary medicine, our political parties and health institutions seem intent on dragging us back to a 1950s ‘white picket fence model’ of conservative health care.

In 2018, Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) commented that “people who choose homeopathy may put their health at risk, if they reject or delay treatments for which there is good evidence for safety and effectiveness”. I wonder what the 27% of Swiss GPs who prescribe homeopathic medicines alongside pharmaceutical medicine think. Can such a large cohort of highly educated and well-trained physicians be blindly putting their patient’s wellbeing at risk or are they finding that the natural remedies they use are both safe and effective when used judiciously?

I’d like to think that in 2019 it’s time for Australia to be embracing a Swiss style progressive medical landscape where we support and celebrate the wide choice of health modalities we have available.

Editor’s note: Our rotating wellbeing and fitness columns provide advice that is general in nature. Please always refer to your preferred health professional for advice suited to your personal healthcare requirements.

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