Let us travel back 500 years in time. We are back in Elizabethan England with a population of approximately four million people. Shakespeare is writing one of his plays about Italy and a young man named William Harvey goes there to study medicine. Italy was the source of learning, and the place where the most eminent physicians could be found, so as a scientist Harvey naturally wanted to be in what was considered the center of the medical universe. Having obtained his degree in Padua in 1604, Harvey returned to England where he decided to investigate the secrets of the human heart, not from a philosophical or romantic point of view but to decipher the source of circulation. In 1728, Harvey, who by this time was a physician of some fame, wrote a complete account of the circulation of the blood in the human body. In his time Harvey's research was never acknowledged. In fact if anything his book received negative responses and yet his research became the foundation for modern study on the heart and the circulation. The real problem was that Harvey's contemporaries, much like the man himself, had no idea how to utilize the information he had so painstakingly acquired.
What has William Harvey got to do with modern day medicine? The answer is his dilemma and the manner in which his research was greeted. His specific problem was that the research was pure knowledge that no one could see a practical application to and hence the physicians of his time could not understand why they should be interested in such information. The case is not so different today. Pure knowledge for its own sake with no obvious relevance is dismissed. But modern doctors differ from Harvey in that they are also bewildered by the mass of information that they are bombarded with. With a steady increase in the number of research projects, it is hard for doctors, not only to keep up with the new information, but also to assess the value of it and understand the implications. As a result there have been drastic changes in the way medicine is practiced.
Medicine has divided into two clear branches: conventional medicine and alternative medicine. Both these branches are in response to the increased data that is flooding the market and the patients' increased knowledge of their own bodies due to easy access to that information. Conventional medicine has taken the route of specialization so that a doctor will become the all-knowing force in a particular field. Gone are the days when the physician knew a little about everything, we the general public have the same knowledge, and so in response to a changing society, specialization has come about.
This division of the body into parts has led to a rise in holistic treatment. The word "holistic" comes from a Greek word meaning "whole", "complete", and that is how most people want their bodies to be dealt with: as a "whole" entity and not to be treated as if they are no more than the sum of their various parts. The problem is that even while alternative medicine deals with the body as a whole, it has almost as many specialties as there are specialists in conventional medicine. Choosing which branch of alternative therapy to undergo is difficult, just as it is difficult to know whether to combine the conventional and alternative approaches. Will a Reiki session be of more value than acupuncture and will either of these treatments negate the pill you have just swallowed or vice versa?
All these questions leave everyone more confused: both the doctors and the patients. And the situation is getting worse as the amount of research producing new facts, figures, medications and suggestions is constantly growing. There is also a constant change in trends. What used to be considered a favorable measurement for cholesterol suddenly becomes dangerous and needs medication. But the tablets have side effects. The changes in society and technology have not made the situation less confusing. Back in 1600 Harvey was disappointed and bewildered by his colleagues' response. The problem has merely increased in the intervening years so that nowadays medicine is a field which seems to be a mass of confusion for everyone.
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