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Health Care and Alternative Health in France

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I recently had the opportunity to speak at a conference in Paris, France. Surprisingly, based upon Michael Moore's glowing reports of the French health care system in his movie, Sicko, I discovered that few French citizens or physicians like their health care either, though some told me that it was a French trait to criticize everything, regardless. My French colleagues said the ambulance takes too long to appear from when it is called, it sometimes takes people to the furthest hospital instead of the closest. They said that doctors are rude, arrogant, and spend too little time. Some are drunks, or so says the media.

Within the ranks, physicians themselves told me of the cut-throat competition for the coveted hospital jobs in Paris and elsewhere. They described doctors attempting to discredit each other and tear one another down in order to climb to the top of the mountain and stay there. One opthalmologist cried as she told me about a colleague of hers who was a good surgeon and was being falsely accused of making errors by the doctor who wanted his position as head of opthalmology and Professor at a medical school.

Apparently medicine is ill in many parts of the world. Perhaps all the world's institutions are ill? What can we do?

The conference was about what we call CAM, or Complementary and Alternative Medicine, in the United States, and particularly about the basis for some CAM practices in advanced physics. The conference was coordinated by Anna de Constatin and sponsored by the Association un Nouveau Regard sur le Vivant, which roughly translates as The Association for a New Look at Life.

The intellectual focus of the conference was the basis for homeopathy, aromatherapy, and some practices of energy medicine in advanced physics. The powerpoints impressively showed that water does remember previous substances and that spectrographic spikes of those substances remain after all molecules of the substance are removed. This, of course, provides potential support for understanding how homeopathy works, if and when it does work. The physicists and engineers were as excited as children with new Christmas toys, though little was said about the degree to which these alternative practices actually help people and under what circumstances.

From my standpoint as an indigenous person ("An American Indian in Paris"), I can readily accept the idea that intention has an effect upon matter and can charge matter with a purpose. I have been taught to be believe that this happens through the power of prayer, through faith, and through belief. What I don't know for certain is if one can separate easily the power of intent at the quantum physics level from the action of "substance memory".

I suppose we could do studies in which mean people make homeopathic remedies while practicing hating the people for whom they prepare the remedies. We could poke them in ways to make them angry all the while they are doing this. Computers could diagnose and prescribe the remedies in constant robotic fashion. But then we beg the question of what can humans do through the power of intent, compassion, and connection to help each other. This might be a more important point than how homeopathy works or if homeopathy works. Perhaps substances or treatments are only excuses to get us together to create a shared intent for healing, to show compassion to one another, and to enter a dialogue that ultimately leads to transformation.

What I do know is how much my colleagues who are homeopaths help some of their patients in their practices. This has impressed me. I can't say how much should be attributed to the homeopathic medicine and how much to the doctor-patient relationship, the shared intent, the compassion, or the faith, but these may be inseparable aspects of good doctoring, which can only be removed in certain kinds of research studies.

There seems to be far too little of our just being helpful and having good intent in this world. We are not sufficiently focused on simply doing what we can to make people feel better.

In the USA, we are too focused on how we will be paid and on how much. Medicine is driven by profit-loss statements. France has apparently similar problems. Doctors may compete for status and income to the detriment of their patients.

I have no quick solutions for medicine since it took us a while to get here and it will take us a while to change back.

I do have a simple proposal that could be tried in several geographical regions as a test drive. What if we tried a new way to pay doctors based upon the concierge model? What if I was paid a set fee each year to take care of a patient, period? My friend who is a family doctor in Scottsdale, Arizona, charges each person in her practice $2000 per year. She limits her practice to 250 people. She has no staff. She sees people for as long as she wishes and as often as she wishes. She makes more money than she ever did in the other system (in which she had three people coding her visits and sending bills to insurance companies and one receptionist), has more free time, and is less stressed. To her surprise, she found that people don't want want to come as often as she wants them to come and they won't stay as long for appointments as she wants them to stay.

Of course, some doctors would abuse this system, but patient complaints would most likely identify them quickly, and they could be sanctioned in some way.

I would be happy in such a system and would do my utmost to keep people healthy (but then I have studied CAM and have more methods than pharmaceuticals for doing so, including traditional Chinese medicine, homeopathy, aromatherapy, Cherokee osteopathy, guided imagery, hypnosis, meditation, relaxation training, and the art of listening. I would really enjoy helping people to change their lifestyle. We could even exercise together. I could have some come to teach all of us yoga in the office, or t'ai chi, or chi gong, and offer my classes to my clientele as part of their fee so that I could take them, too. Each of us could try different approaches in our practices for keeping people healthy. We could come together at conferences like the one I am at, to compare notes on what seems to work best for each of us.

Back to the conference. My favorite presentation was that of Dr. Mario Beauregard of the University of Montreal. He spoke about spiritual neurobiology. I loved this, because I love studying the brain. I don't know how this study helps anyone get better, but it's fun. Dr. Beauregard concluded that neuroscience cannot answer the question of the existence of God, but it can show what parts of the brain light up on functional magnetic imaging studies or PET scans when we feel the presence of God or have spiritual experiences, and we can confirm that not everyone who has extraordinary spiritual experiences is having temporal lobe epilepsy.

Science probably has limits for helping us to make people heal better. All things being equal, it can compare two very similar treatments to each other. It can detect dangerous treatments, such as ibuprofen's adverse effects upon the heart and kidneys. But it can't help us as much as we wish to help people feel better. Proving the existence of auras doesn't do much to tell us how to work constructively to heal the aura.

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Lewis Mehl-Madrona graduated from Stanford University School of Medicine and completed residencies in family medicine and in psychiatry at the University of Vermont. He is the author of Coyote Medicine, Coyote Healing, Coyote Wisdom, and (more...)

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