Integrative medicine future could be high-tech, high-touch

High-tech, high-touch may be the future of integrative medicine, according to a Harvard Medical School professor who lectured today in Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Health Law & Policy.

Even as technology advances geometrically - including through stem cell research, robotics and nanotechnology - there still remains a need for human touch, for the care that only human touch can provide.

Hence the existence of therapies such as Reiki and Therapeutic Touch.

Current research includes efforts to determine the physiological mechanisms involved in successful use of these therapies. The debate as to whether there is an "energy" component continues.

We also discussed the "ethics of care," a perspective that has come into traditional bioethics and has echoed spiritual and psychological perspectives such as the emphasis on the value of compassion.

In this vein, the question as to the extent to which, over the long term, robots will be able to emulate humans, remains. If "energy" therapies are based in forces not currently measurable in the physical domain, will robots be able to receive and send 'energy' as well?

I kind of asked this question in a chapter in Beyond Complementary Medicine (2000) entitled, "Do Clones Have Souls?" Will robots have biofields?

I honestly think the answer is yes. If ants and pennies as well as humans do, why not robots? (And especially since robots may be reading this blog in a few years it is important to be courteous.) But then how do we reconcile the seeming oxymoron of high-tech, hi-touch? Is it a matter of integrating CAM therapies such as Therapeutic Touch and Reiki into biomedical care dominated by nanotechnology and other modern scientific tools? Of positioning spiritual and psychological care more centrally within the hospital, or of reconciling the various domains so that the patient receives more unified care, rather than a smorgasboard of approaches?

The article below suggests that robotic nurses are already here, and that the ethical, administrative, and institutional policy questions need a lot more work. The nonhuman touch: Robots are making inroads in health care, are great with stroke patients, autistic kids reports that for many patients, 'Where normal therapy failed, the constant robot-guided repetitions worked....

Marin, who worked with a robot at the Burke Rehabilitation Hospital in White Plains, N.Y., is one of about 300 stroke patients in experimental studies with a robot that's a cross between an exercise machine and video game. And many of these patients, who wouldn't normally get better, showed significant improvement, said Dr. Christopher Bever, chief of neurology at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Baltimore, where one of the studies was conducted.

The patients' scores on the video game based on their ability to guide the joystick and grasp and release it properly without the robot's help -- have improved about 10 percent, said MIT roboticist Hermano Igo Krebs....

In experiments across the country, robots are providing the human caring touch to patients who need more help than there are therapists and nurses: stroke victims, autistic children, and the elderly. Bever, a newcomer to the field of robotics, now wants to try robotic therapy on patients with multiple sclerosis.

At the University of Southern California, Maja Mataric, who runs the robotics center, is also using robot therapy on stroke patients. Unlike Hogan's robots, Mataric's are more like a coach, using humor and personality, to guide patients through monotonous therapy.

She's also about to test robots as therapy aids for autistic children. A Yale study of robots and autistic children showed that while able children lose interest in the robots over time, the autistic children have a fascination with repetitive mechanical things, Mataric said.

In Pittsburgh, "Nursebot" (a robot that took on male and female personalities of Earl and Pearl depending on the voice used at the time) was tried out with elderly patients. Despite the stereotype of older people being technology phobic, the patients accepted the robots....


See also:

* Nanotechnology and robotic surgery accelerating medical progress
* Wireless teleportation established
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Law Offices of Michael H. Cohen offers general corporate legal services, litigation consultation, and expertise in health law with a unique focus on alternative, complementary, and integrative medical therapies.

Michael H. Cohen is Principal in Law Offices of Michael H. Cohen and also President of the Institute for Integrative and Energy Medicine (also known as the Institute for Health, Ethics, Law, Policy & Society), a forum for exploration of legal, regulatory, ethical, and health policy issues involved in the judicious integration of complementary and alternative medical therapies (such as acupuncture and traditional oriental medicine, chiropractic, massage therapy, herbal medicine) and conventional clinical care. The most recent published book by Michael H. Cohen on health care law, regulation, ethics and policy pertaining to complementary, alternative and integrative medicine and related fields is Healing at the Borderland of Medicine and Religion. This is the fourth book in a series, following Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Legal Boundaries and Regulatory Perspectives (1998), Beyond Complementary Medicine: Legal and Ethical Perspectives on Health Care and Human Evolution (2000), and Future Medicine: Ethical Dilemmas, Regulatory Challenges, and Therapeutic Pathways to Health Care and Healing in Human Transformation (2003).

Michael H. Cohen has also been admitted to the Bar of England and Wales as a Solicitor (non-practicing), adding to Bar membership in four U.S. states.
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