• Sweden edition
 
Swedish alternative medicine sector in danger of fragmentation

Swedish alternative medicine sector in danger of fragmentation

Published: 29 Sep 2008 17:33 GMT+02:00
Updated: 29 Sep 2008 17:33 GMT+02:00

Through government disinterest, the Swedish CAM sector is in danger of being split between a mainstream medical sector that creams off the more acceptable therapies and a diverse and disorganized alternative sector reluctant to be held accountable to western medical standards.

This leaves consumers with no way of judging whether their acupuncturist, herbalist, or homeopath is a well trained professional, or whether their forward thinking physician actually has more than a passing knowledge of a complementary approach.

Alternative in Sweden is 'mainstream' elsewhere

A Swedish government report from 2006 identified 200 or so CAM approaches ranging from crystal therapy to acupuncture, making it impossible to talk about this sector as a homogenous entity. What connects them is the lack of ‘evidence based’ efficacy.

“This means an Ayurvedic doctor practices her country’s mainstream approach at home in India, but becomes ‘alternative’ the moment she wants to practice in Sweden”, says Susanne Nordling, Chairwoman of the Nordic Cooperation Council for non-conventional medicine and board member of KAM, the Committee for Alternative Medicine.

This view is echoed by Phil Austin, who worked as an osteopath in various GP surgeries in the UK.

“Before I came to Sweden I never even considered myself an alternative therapist”. Phil Austin now runs Osteopati & Pilatus in Stockholm and explains that in Sweden osteopathy is neither regulated nor banned. However, as with all CAM therapies, the law does forbid its practitioners to treat cancer patients, people suffering from epilepsy and young children.

Other European countries began embedding CAM approaches into national health legislation many years ago. The Swedish government, influenced by a health care sector that is obsessed with evidence-based research, allows only those remedies and practices to be used that are proven – in research labs – to work.

So while German and English patients have the freedom to choose CAM care from government regulated practitioners that are well educated, covered by insurance and follow ethical guidelines, Swedish consumers are discouraged from seeking CAM treatment by relegating the sector to the shadow lands of health care. And despite expensive studies, the new conservative government dropped plans for a CAM register when they came into office two years ago.

Seeking good research evidence

It is only in the last 50 years that the massive market in medical research and evidence based trials has begun to dominate. Before that even the forerunners of today’s mainstream doctors had to cope with the process of gaining acceptance for their methods. Bloodletting may have given way to new ideas and techniques, but these methods were often practiced by enlightened ‘charlatans’ until their efficacy was shown to hold.

“I do believe the government could be more active”, says Prof. Martin Ingvar, Professor in Integrative Medicine at Karolinska Institutet and head of research at the Osher Centre for Integrative Medicine.

“As well as looking at who should regulate CAM practitioners there is tremendous confusion around the regulation of herbal medicines.”

Swedish CAM practitioners were delighted when, two years ago, KI received a grant of 50 million kronor ($7.25 million) from Mrs. Barbro Osher, Consul General of Sweden in San Francisco and Chairwoman of the Osher Foundation. After all, the two existing Osher Centres at the University of California and Harvard University both feature research, education, and clinical care in CAM.

But the Swedes were to be disappointed: “The Osher Centre at KI is not a centre for alternative medicine, it is a centre for integrative medicine,” says Prof. Ingvar. The main focus of their research is on the so-called generalized sickness response and the placebo effect.

CAM therapists treat the person not the illness, and this holistic approach has often been given as an explanation for the placebo effect. According to Prof. Ingvar, before the efficacy of any therapy can be researched and proven, this riddle needs to be understood, putting the research ball firmly back into the CAM sector’s court.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has expressed a great interest in seeing better research applied to CAM and supports the many initiatives around the world, but despite that, there are still many alternative practitioners who resist playing by ‘western rules’.

Is self-regulation the way forward?

In the end, self regulation may be the best way forward for CAM practitioners.

“I believe that (self) regulation is about accountability, and I am working very hard with the Swedish Association for Osteopathy, as well as the two training centres in Sweden to get osteopathy regulated”, says Phil Austin.

But how about approaching the regulatory bodies as one homogenous group, like the Committee for Alternative Medicine, KAM, tried to do? It was set up in 1985 and took eight years to devise its current system of self-regulation. but to date only some 137 therapists have signed up.

KAM’s Susanne Nordling agrees that the sector is increasingly diverse, and that not everyone wants to be under the same umbrella. In addition, there are some practitioners who prefer to remain unregulated.

“It has also been difficult to be taken seriously as one small independent body. But we are currently working with the WHO to establish international rules for accreditation; covering education, ethics, and insurance.”

So far only the guidelines for chiropractors and acupuncturists have been published by the WHO committee, but at least another eight disciplines are being explored.

“I would welcome government regulation, and would hope that some of the work that we are currently doing will benefit a process of government led regulation for the CAM sector,” adds Nordling.

But until then Swedes will have to rely on personal recommendations when it comes to finding reliable alternative therapists. And while the growing interest from within the existing mainstream medical sector is welcome, there is a danger is that the very essence of holistic complementary treatment is lost.

Furthermore, it could lead to inverted quackery, where a few weeks of homeopathy, acupuncture, or herbal training is bolted onto a medical degree, leaving a totally inadequate knowledge base.

September’s inaugural meeting of the Network for Integrative Medicine only welcomed doctors with an accreditation from the National Board of Health and Welfare, thus excluding 90 percent of current CAM practitioners.

While the organizers have every right to invite whom they want, it is a development that should concern anyone who wants the CAM sector in Sweden to come out of the shadows and into greater transparency. If not, they may find their ‘sector’ will be plucked of its finest feathers. And without government regulation, Swedes will be denied a broad and inclusive health care system and end up receiving the worst of both worlds.

Lysanne Sizoo (news@thelocal.se)

Don't miss...X
Left Right
Today's headlines
Interview
'The concept of race is a slippery slope': Ullenhag
Integration Minister Erik Ullenhag. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

'The concept of race is a slippery slope': Ullenhag

Integration Minister Erik Ullenhag tells The Local why he plans to remove the term "race" from all Swedish law, how he responds to his critics, and why Sweden must steer clear of xenophobia. READ  

Sweden's tourism figures on the rise for 2014

Sweden's tourism figures on the rise for 2014

Tourism in Sweden is on the rise, with the first half of 2014 seeing a boom in visiting figures for both domestic and foreign tourists. READ  

Northern Dispatches
How I tackled northern Sweden's savage insects

How I tackled northern Sweden's savage insects

Ex-Londoner Paul Connolly has just survived a northern Sweden heat wave. But it wasn't the high temperatures that were the real problem, he recounts. READ  

What's On in Sweden - Pride Parade

What's On in Sweden - Pride Parade

Saturday marks the Stockholm Pride Parade, the biggest event of Pride Week (and the biggest Pride Parade in Scandinavia). Here's what to see and where to be, as well as plenty of other activities in Sweden's three biggest cities for the weekend. READ  

Railway fatalaties on the rise in Sweden
File photo: Carl Dougge/Flickr

Railway fatalaties on the rise in Sweden

Even though Sweden's Traffic Agency has drastic plans to reduce the number of people killed by trains in Sweden, a new report shows that figures are on the rise. READ  

Woman finds Ikea bags stuffed with 80 skeletons

Woman finds Ikea bags stuffed with 80 skeletons

UPDATED: A woman in southern Sweden is furious after stumbling upon scores of skulls and human bones inside Ikea bags in a church. The man who dug up the bones, however, says it's not as bad as it looks. READ  

Swedish Wikipedia jumps to second biggest

Swedish Wikipedia jumps to second biggest

There are now more Swedish Wikipedia entries than any other language in the world, besides English. And there's one Swede who's largely responsible. READ  

Assault with iron pipe 'no hate crime': police
The aftermath of the attack in Seved, Malmö on July 6th 2014. Drago Prvulovic / TT

Assault with iron pipe 'no hate crime': police

Police in southern Sweden have concluded that a man who was beaten with an iron pipe for hanging an Israeli flag in his window was not a victim of a hate crime. READ  

AstraZeneca hikes earnings outlook
Photo: Claus Gertsen/TT

AstraZeneca hikes earnings outlook

After fighting off a fierce takeover bid from Pfizer, Swedish-British drugmaker AstraZeneca raised its 2014 earnings outlook and posted rising second quarter sales on Thursday. READ  

Race to be scrapped from Swedish legislation
Integration Minister Erik Ullenhag meets children in Husby, Stockholm. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

Race to be scrapped from Swedish legislation

The Swedish government announced that it plans to remove all mentions of race from Swedish legislation, saying that race is a social construct which should not be encouraged in law. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Gallery
Stockholm demonstration against Israel
National
Stockholm Pride bars Sweden Democrats
National
Gender neutral pronoun 'hen' enters dictionary
Society
Top ten cafes in Stockholm
People-watching
Gallery
People-watching - Stockholm Pride
Blog updates

31 July

Calling a speedo a speedo (Blogweiser) »

"There are a lot of speedos on Europe’s beaches. Some European males are evidently more comfortable sporting small, stretchy suits on public beaches than I would be. I accept it may be nice to have swimwear that’s not long and cumbersome. A speedo is maybe also good for tanning. But strolling around town in a..." READ »

 

27 July

Approaching Stockholm (Around Sweden in a kayak) »

"I woke up in the comfort of my own little cabin on Eva and Rolf’s boat, it was 7:30am and I was feeling a bit groggy after a couple of beers with all the lovely locals the night before. The previous day had really taken its toll on my body and I was very stiff and..." READ »

 
 
 
Photo: Henrik Trygg/Imagebank Sweden
Society
Sweden worst in EU at getting foreigners jobs
Lifestyle
Stockholm Pride kicks off
Analysis
The top six ways the US and Sweden differ
National
Swedish youth suicides hit 25-year high
National
Politician reported for selling 'negro ball'
National
Police turn blind eye to Swedish 'slave trade'
Gallery
Stockholm Pride: Allsång på Skansen with Conchita Wurst
Skatteverket
Sponsored Article
Introducing... ID cards and permits in Stockholm
Gallery
People-watching, June 26th - 28th. Get inside Stockholm's hottest nightclubs
Gallery
Top ten Swedish taboos
Society
Seven-year-old Swede cycles to Berlin
Politics
'Gaza conflict needs help, not empty rhetoric'
Society
Swedes voted 'most beautiful' in the Nordics
Business & Money
Sweden demands EU clarity on Bitcoin tax
National
Swedish organic sales enjoy 'amazing' growth
Gallery
People-watching July 23
National
Swedish cops elect not to shoot 'angry elks'
Business & Money
New alcohol retail rules threaten micro-breweries
Gallery
People-watching Båstad
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Your finances in Stockholm
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Housing in Stockholm
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

747
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com
If you want to drink, that’s your business.
If you want to stop, we can help.

Learn more about English-language Alcoholics Anonymous in Sweden. No dues. No fees. Confidentiality assured.
AA-EUROPE.ORG/SWEDEN
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
http://psdmedia.se