Western Medicine

Understanding Western Medicine

What is western medicine?

Western medicine is the term that is used for the diagnoses and treatments of diseases and other ailments in the west from the time of the ancient Greeks. In some cases, people simply refer to it as 'medicine'. However, the term western medicine is also used in order to distinguish it from alternative healing methods and traditional Chinese medicine, or TCM. As well as developing treatments and cures, western forms of medicine are also applied in preventative fields and public health programmes. Today, the practice is both highly specialised and multi-disciplinary taking in anything from physiotherapy to keyhole surgery and psychiatry to chemotherapy.

 Who invented western medicine?

 No single person invented western medicine, rather like no individual invented science. Based on observable results, the discipline is said to have sprung from the practices of Hippocrates of Kos. He insisted that medicine was a distinct field of study from other academic pursuits, such as philosophy. His ideas caught on, and most physicians around the world still take the so-called Hippocratic oath when they qualify, which means they promise to act in a professional manner at all times.

What can western medicine learn from traditional healing?

Proponents of western medicine have often overlooked traditional healing methods over the centuries. However, it is fair to say that some in the profession, at least, are more engaged with so-called alternative medicine. Some blend western approaches with herbalism in the search for new medications, for example, something which would have been considered as witchcraft in the past. Indeed, some aspects of TCM, such as acupuncture, are also increasingly being used within mainstream healthcare provision in the west.

Is western medicine the best form of healthcare?

This question can only be answered subjectively. To some, the observable results of Hippocratic medicine mean that it cannot be bettered. Nevertheless, results from other traditions, even if they cannot always be fully explained in a scientific manner, will sometimes afford hope to patients where western medicine has no therapy to offer. Certainly, it is fair to say that western medicine is widely regarded as a strong form of healthcare, even in places where traditional methods are still preferred. Most people will turn to their doctor first if they have an ailment and only seek alternatives if their treatment does not seem to be effective.

Why is western medicine more effective?

There are huge resources that go into the kind of research that is required to make western medicine as effective as it is. Billions are spent developing drugs, non-invasive scanning equipment and surgical techniques. That said, western forms of treating people are not always as effective as other approaches. Therefore, it would be a mistake to think that the situation is down to levels of investment alone. After all, there have been significant public health problems caused in some western countries in the past due to certain treatments which have turned out to have unwanted side-effects.

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Based on over 3,500 years of accumulated knowledge and skills, traditional Chinese medicine, or TCM as it is often called, is an alternative health system that is used widely all over Asia and especially, of course, in China itself. There are several different disciplines within TCM, which include herbal medicine, massage, exercise regimes, acupuncture, bone-setting, cupping and coining. The origins of the sorts of traditional forms of Chinese medicine we see being practised today go all the way back to the Shang dynasty. Although some western physicians have little time for traditional Chinese medicine, a number of western-style field trials have shown success despite this not being universal by any means. Overall, TCM is continuing to win support and even admiration outside of its traditional heartland in China.
The term holistic medicine relates to a wide number of therapies that are designed to treat the whole of a person, both their body and mind. It is often, therefore, seen in contrast to the drug therapies offered by big pharmaceutical companies – and surgery, for that matter – as a means of dealing with all ailments rather than focusing on 'cures' for specific pathogens or treating individual symptoms. Some, therefore, argue that holistic medicine frames conventional Western medicine as one that is narrow in its approach and ultimately unnatural. Holistic medicine is consequently considered an alternative therapy or, more accurately, a combination of alternative therapies. Today, some doctors combine the principals behind holistic therapies with conventional ones. However, this is not yet routine in the West.
Also known as herbal medicine, herbalism is the term that covers the use of plants as medical treatments. This means that traditional medicine – which has been practised all over the world for centuries – is a part of herbalism. In modern medicine, some aspects of herbalism persist, usually because an active ingredient within a particular plant is isolated in the laboratory in order to make a drug therapy. In some cases, materials that are not derived from plant life are considered to be a part of a herbalists toolkit, too. This includes some minerals derived from shells or animal parts as well as honey extracts and fungi. Sometimes herbalism is used to make specific therapies for conditions. In other cases, it is used to fashion dietary supplements which help to prevent ailments from occurring in the first place.
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