An Open Letter to My Friend, John Weeks: By NCCAM’s Josephine Briggs

By Josephine Briggs, MD

[Excerpted from FON Presents: In Living Tribute to John Weeks. Download the 64-page eBook.]

Josephine Briggs, MD

Josephine Briggs, MD

An open letter to my friend, John Weeks:

You will remember six years ago blogging about my appointment as Director of NCCAM to your readers:

“Oops, they did it again.” Your post made it clear that you did not hold out much hope for me—or indeed for the overall NIH investment in complementary and alternative medicine. It was not an auspicious beginning. I will admit I was a bit daunted.

But you also gave me some fine advice. Try some of these approaches. Get some real world experience. Meet some expert practitioners of these disciplines—and watch them in action or try some of these treatments yourself. An appointment with a body works expert for a serious back massage? Visit an herbalist’s garden and learn about some good alternatives to OTC pharmacy? Learn how naturopathic physicians approach guidance on diet and life style? Try acupuncture, perhaps for your plantar fasciitis? And you named names: you gave me some very concrete advice on whom to visit—where to learn more about the real world treatments provided by integrative health practitioners. The process was terrific—the practitioners you introduced me to inspiring. It was a good reboot.

The debate continues, of course. Just a couple weeks ago your Blog blasted us for advice to diabetics to wait for better evidence before expecting that a chemical supplement to the diet like magnesium would improve control of blood sugar. I know we have not gone as far as you would advocate in exploring the potential of mind and body approaches to reduce stress, promote health and wellbeing and reduce pain. But I also am aware, we are really onto something here, and the research on mind-body approaches is going gangbusters.

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The dramatic changes that you write about so effectively—broader incorporation of integrative practices into health care, into wellness programs, into nursing and hospice care—these changes reflect public interest, strong media voices including yours, important provider dissatisfactions. They provide strong justification for our continued investments of the taxpayer dollars.

Conversations with you were the starting point for me in recognizing that we need new approaches to research real world effectiveness. We must not sacrifice rigor, but we need to make sure our research methods capture the full range of potential benefits; we can’t be satisfied with studying a laboratory version of the integrative approach. We are not there yet—but we are making progress.

John, I can’t imagine a better debating partner. You are a provocative voice, but a welcome one, one of the most insightful in current health care discussions. I continue to learn from this dialog.

With warmest regards,
Josie Briggs

PS: John, I hope you appreciate the fact that I wrote this entire letter without once using the word ‘modalities’.

Dr. Briggs is the Director of the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

[Excerpted from, FON Presents: In Living Tribute to John Weeks. Download the 64-page eBook.]

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