Learning from no-show patients
Dr Brendan Fitzpatrick did his medical training in Ireland and worked as a GP for five years in Australia and Thailand. On his return to Ireland, he trained as an acupuncturist, then as a homoeopath and later as an allergy specialist.
What prompted your interest in complementary health therapies?
My interest in alternative medicine began while I was working as a medical doctor in a refugee camp in Thailand. I noticed how the Chinese population rarely came to the clinic. They were able to manage their medical problems through acupuncture and herbal medicine. When one is removed from a conventional medical context as I was there, one is able to take a broader view of its strengths and weaknesses. On my way home from the camp, I met an Australian doctor I had worked with and respected a lot.
He suggested I study acupuncture. I trained in London before coming back here to work. Later, I added homoeopathy to my skills and later still, developed an interest in allergies and the role of vitamins and minerals in health.
Do you believe complementary therapies work better than orthodox approaches for some conditions/illnesses?
It is difficult to give a yes/no answer to this. Conventional medical treatment is more reliable for acute problems and serious infections. Homoeopathy is good for chronic conditions and to prevent recurrent infections and for those who are concerned about using medical drugs on a long-term basis.
Do you find it difficult to combine the two disciplines?
Although I am trained as a doctor, I practise as a homeopath/ acupuncturist and allergy specialist. However, I will prescribe medical skin creams and anti-inflammatories to some patients. Most people who come to me will have already followed the conventional route.
They will realise that I will see them three or four times over a period of time to look at natural treatment options. If they need other investigations and tests, I will also recommend them. Although I don't combine the two disciplines, I believe it would be feasible for a GP to use acupuncture for back, shoulder and neck pain and homoeopathy for the early stages of infection and first aid.
How have your medical colleagues responded to your interest in complementary therapies?
I think some of the initial open hostility to complementary medicine has eased. There is more tolerance and acceptance around and I get more referrals from GPs now than I did five years ago. Some GPs are still genuinely concerned about the excessive claims of complementary therapies, others are threatened while more and more are recognising the shortfalls in their own system.
How have your patients responded to your change of focus?
I didn't have a patient base here as a GP so most of my patients come to me for what I do now. Some people gain a certain security from the fact that I am medically trained. Complementary medicine suits some patients more than others. Some people will always want a quick fix solution and for these antibiotics and painkillers are the best option. Others are learning to know themselves when to go to a conventional doctor and when to seek out an alternative practitioner.