Varieties of healing. 1: medical pluralism in the United States

Ann Intern Med. 2001 Aug 7;135(3):189-95. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-135-3-200108070-00011.


Medicine has become interested in unconventional healing practices, ostensibly because of recent demographic research that reveals a thriving medical market of multiple options. This essay presents a historical overview of medical pluralism in the United States. Consistent evidence is examined suggesting that unconventional medicine has been a persistent presence in U.S. health care. Despite parallels with the past, the recent widespread interest in alternative medicine also represents a dramatic reconfiguration of medical pluralism-from historical antagonism to what might arguably be described as a topical acknowledgment of postmodern medical diversity. This recent shift may have less to do with acknowledging "new" survey data than with representing shifts in medicine's institutional authority in a consumer-driven health care environment. This essay is an introduction to a discussion of a taxonomy of contemporary U.S. medical pluralism, which also appears in this issue.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Complementary Therapies / history*
  • Complementary Therapies / trends
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • United States