In Defense of European Integrative Hospitals

Mark Hancock MD, MPH, January 10, 2021

The publication in The Guardian by Philip Oltermann today of the article attacking the integrative treatment of hospitalized patients in Germany is biased, closed-minded and uninformed. He attempts to make the case that because there exist (due to the will of the German people who have a strong support for integrative medicine) public hospitals whose physicians and nurses use integrative modalities, and that these modalities are delivered in the care of sometimes severely ill patients infected with Covid, and that some of these patients cannot directly indicate if they would prefer not to be treated with these modalities, therefore there is gross quackery going on foisted on unconsenting patients. Because of the implications of these statements in such a widely read news source it is important to go through each of these points carefully.

The inside of the Integrative Hospital I studied at for 3 years in Germany. Please carefully note there are at least a few right angles!

It is absolutely correct that Germany boasts multiple public hospitals practicing an integrative medicine going back over 100 years called Anthroposophic Medicine. Over 1000 scientific papers have been published on this system of medicine- which is practiced all over the world in over 60 countries. That these facilities exist is a testament to the public support of integrative medicine in Germany. A nursing school, medical school and residency training system exist that teach both conventional medicine side by side with the integrative system of Anthroposophic Medicine (AM). These therapies are covered by insurance companies- because they work. In one case comparison was made between inpatient depression treatment conventionally versus in an Anthroposophic hospital. The integrative approach took longer and was more expensive in the short run as it integrated artistic modalities and other remedies to try to address the heart of the issue. However, these treatments are now covered in Europe because the patients treated with them had far less recurrence and readmissions for the same issue, saving thousands of dollars in the long run. Pediatric inpatient departments in AM hospitals has been found to treat a similar case mix of patients compared with conventional hospitals and do so efficiently. One personal communication between myself and the head of an eating disorders inpatient unit related that in the integrative treatment the children had 20% less recurrence.

Anthroposophic medicine has decades of experience treating infectious diseases (including respiratory infections) often not finding it necessary to use antibiotics.

A prospective study of over 1000 individuals with ear infection or upper respiratory infection showed that AM was superior, giving nearly twice the improvement in 24hours as conventional care. AM providers prescribed antibiotics 10% of the time, conventional 97%. One small study showed comparable results in a group of patients with bacterial pneumonia treated with only AM (no antibiotics) to general outcomes of patients with similar severity of pneumonia when treated with antibiotics. In another study 96% of parents were happy with the AM care for pneumonia and respiratory illness and reported learning skills they could use at home. This large study of 252 children with pediatric pneumonia, which may be viral or bacterial, treated in an integrative AM hospital found good outcomes though only 32% were given antibiotics with their care. Standard prescribing of antibiotics is 88-98%. Integrative care hospital systems were well prepared for Covid- another viral illness often attacking the lungs with initially no conventional treatment and currently very little evidence based treatments in the conventional realm. It is clear that addressing the human being as a whole can and does shift outcomes in infectious disease processes. It is reasonable to think that in Covid infection the same would be true.

Oltermann raises the ethical dilemma that patients are transported to these hospitals as they are part of the public sector and may be too sick to voice that they do not want these modalities. He does clarify that the staff did these therapies to augment other conventional care modalities (they were not replacing oxygen with a ginger compress). And they did when possible verbally consent the patient or their family about these care decisions. It is important to note that the modalities in question are external herbal compresses and homeopathic remedies. Homeopathic remedies are not considered harmful by most conventional practitioners (unless replacing or delaying a conventional care modality). As a physician that has worked with patients in the intensive care unit, there are some interventions (like a heating pad) that we can use with little more than verbal consent or even gesture (such as putting out one’s arm for a blood draw). These integrative modalities are not akin to a blood transfusion or surgery. Oltermann’s attempt to label these innovative integrative hospitals as unethical carries no water.

Oltermann commits the logical fallacy of hasty generalization at the end of his article where he infers that the entirety of Anthroposophic medicine is anti-vaccination due to some supporters of AM marching “alongside anti-vaxxers”. However, this is contraindicated by looking at statements from the leadership of AM: “In overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic, the vaccination issue is essential. It is to be recognized as an exceptional achievement that we have succeeded in developing an impressive variety of COVID-19 vaccines in a very short time.” In this well balanced document the authors attempt to forge a path that both protects a country’s population from the pandemic while preserving the personal autonomy of its peoples.

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21 thoughts on “In Defense of European Integrative Hospitals

  1. Thank you for this article. Could I add that it may not be know or understood that anthroposofphical physicians are fully university trained on top of which there is the anthroposophical medical training. It may also be of interest that amongst the antrhoposophical doctors there are recognised specialists and professors of medicine.

  2. Brilliant content which would have a better effect if it was written in less poor English. Would the author agree to an editorial revision by a native speaker of one could be found?

    1. Thank you for your reply Dr Joy! I would be happy to have a true native speaker to edit my article. I only have spent 2 years in the United Kingdom. I was born and grew up in the US and have spent about 15% of my life outside of the US. I think that a consequence of medical school and learning German has been that my sentence formulation occasionally goes topsy turvy- like a breech birth you don’t know how it will go until the end.

      Y’all should come to Georgia as there is a true slaughter of native English going on down here in general!


      1. Thank you so much for your article Dr Hancock..This was certainly an emotive and as so often is the case, a poorly researched article which does absolutely nothing to improve the quality of dialogue at this critical time. It only serves to strengthen the anti Steiner sentiment amongst those forever on the lookout for such stuff.. Is there any possibility that your article can find its way into the mainstream media? Only this can truly counter the appalling diet of misinformation we are subject to on a daily basis.

    2. This article contains brilliant content which would have a better effect if it were written in better English.

      And, thank you Mark for writing this. I felt a need to write to the editor at the Guardian myself, with many of the same points you make here.

  3. I would also like to add that the top photo of a group of performing ( and not therapeutic eurythmists) was totally irrelevant and over emotive! The two types of eurythmist are trained in different ways for different purposes. A therapeutic eurythmist usually works alone.

  4. Thank you, Dr Hancock, for this most excellent article. May it be read by as many people as possible.

  5. Dear Dr Hancock,
    Many thanks for writing such a thoughtful article to refute the claims made in the Guardian article.
    I’m keen to learn more about AM and would be grateful if you could share links or references for the studies you have mentioned so I can start doing some of my own reading and research.
    Also, great work writing in a second language, the message comes through well enough.

  6. Is there any possibility of getting your response to/into the Guardian? In their aim towards quality journalism, you would hope they would be open to a counter point to some of the misinformation they published.

  7. Dr Hancock, thank you for this!

    I used to translate eurythmy therapy texts for the Eurythmy Therapy Forum of the Medical Section at the Goetheanum. I found your article really clear and straightforward.
    I am also having a close friend who spent even longer in Germany than you seem to have — he is very frequently practising the kauderwelsch in our conversational interludes over a cup of tea!
    Keep up the good work please!

  8. Excellent article that would also add corrections to German newspapers like taz, die tageszeitung which a tendency to produce fake news on AM like The Guardian.

  9. Lol… thank you for caring enough to relay this much needed information. I am from North Georgia and speak appalation. Try to follow that! One of the true languages to be found. I had NO problem getting the entire picture and applauded your recitation.
    …I am sure if one is truly of interest in the message you have so eloquently delivered, one would seek out a interpreter.

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