A Sociological Approach to Varying Treatment Outcomes of Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Monday, July 14, 2014: 8:45 PM
Room: F204
Oral Presentation
Jae-Mahn SHIM , Sociology, University of Seoul, South Korea
Social sciences of medicine have not given much attention to the variations in the real-world treatment outcomes of CAM situated in different social contexts yet. This neglect is surprising, because the wisdom has long existed in social sciences of medicine that the effects of medical interventions are significantly influenced by social and cultural circumstances. Along with this neglect, a problematic view seems to be revived and reproduced among the medical science community that any deficiency or efficacy in the treatment outcomes of acupuncture and herbal medicine is attributable to the characteristics of the treatment in itself detached from its medical and social environments. However, the limitation of this view becomes clear when acupuncture or herbal medicine of the identical quality and design leads to varying treatment outcomes in different trial sites. As a way to consider these puzzling variations and to propose a sociological explanation of the varying effects of acupuncture and herbal medicine, this paper examines systematically how divergent treatment outcomes are in acupuncture and herbal medicine in Japan and the U.S. and how they are related with the social environments of these medical interventions. In particular, this paper highlights the significance of coordinating these CAM treatments with the mainstream biomedicine at multiple levels in order to get tangible health care benefits. It concludes with reflections on the limitations of the current discourses on the social determinants of the effects of medicine and the inter-cultural medicine and cultural competency.