Friday, February 11, 2011

Race and Homeopathy

In addition to the changes taking place in the Middle East, you may also know that it’s Black History Month here in the US! I’ve decided then to tackle a small but important topic in this article, which is primarily addressed towards practitioners, though consumers may get some value out of it as well.

At this point, it’s well-documented that a disparity exists between the quality of health care delivered to African Americans and their white American counterparts, even after one accounts for economic differences – meaning that the ability to afford ‘better’ health care doesn’t always mean that better health care is received. However, exactly why this happens is not fully understood, although at least part of it comes down to physician decision-making. Efforts are underway to correct this, although they are largely directed towards the traditional medical establishment. These efforts are mostly directed towards insisting on evidence-based approaches for all patients, and insisting on standards of care, thus reducing the role of physician decisions in these cases.

Within alternative medicine, however, we face different challenges. In homeopathy in particular, I’ve noted a unique problem I’ve not previously seen addressed.

It’s very important in the practice of homeopathy to get a strong sense for a patient’s personality in the interview; thus, it’s important to tell if the patient generally presents as flat, as bubbly, as nervous, etc. I have found that sometimes, this important aspect of the interview can become clouded unless the practitioner is aware of it. What do I mean by this? I mean that patients may modify their behavior because of racial dynamics present between the practitioner and the patient, and unless the practitioner is aware of it, they may miss a prescription. This is by no means a comment on the skill or sensitivity of practitioners, but rather an observation I’ve made and would like to share.

Two specific instances I’m thinking of where this came into play involved African-American patients who ultimately responded to the remedy Phosphorus, one of which was a patient for whom I was the prescribing homeopath. For those unfamiliar with homeopathy, the remedy Phosphorus is commonly associated with patients who are very friendly, ebullient, and cheerful; these are the people whose smiles light up rooms without fail. In both cases, their physical symptoms strongly pointed towards this remedy, but their personalities anywhere but towards Phosphorus – they appeared quiet, flat, almost indifferent during the interview. In my particular case, I began to suspect that my patient was ‘muting’ her personality during the interview, as she began to reveal her true nature, though not until very late in the interview. In both cases, the patients were being interviewed in ‘white’ environments, and so modified their presenting personalities; the correct prescription was made in both cases, but it was only because the physician was sensitive to the fact that their patient wasn’t being their ‘true selves’.

As we work towards reducing racial disparities in health care, this is an area where natural health practitioners are going to have to be conscious. Being aware of how racial dynamics might be playing into your interviews is an important step in delivering better health care.