Controversy over the past decade in Switzerland over coverage of “alternative therapies” led to the widely publicized decision to provisionally include a handful of therapies under the nation’s basic health insurance package 2012 to 2017. There was a proviso: the five therapies—homeopathy, holistic, herbal and neural therapies and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM)—needed to be provided by medical doctors.
In moves reported this month, the Swiss government is opening up the integrative health playing field in multiple ways. Most significantly, a scheme is being created through which distinctly trained practitioners in four fields will be able to get a “federally recognized diploma.” Three of the professions gaining recognition are closely linked to the previously recognized therapies: homeopathy, TCM, and European Traditional Medicine. The fourth is Ayurvedic medicine. Rudolf Happle, Secretary General of the organization of Swiss alternative medicine professionals, fired a shot across the bow toward the medical doctors who were the only ones previously recognized to provide services: “Patients can soon go to a professional who has passed these exams instead of someone who has done a weekend course.” There are roughly 2500 providers who can be included.
The recognition of Ayurvedic practitioners, as described in this article at Swiss.info, follows a strategy of the Swiss Ayurvedic community following the exclusion of Ayurvedic therapies in the earlier insurance coverage theme. After being told to be patient while the provisional coverage played out, the Ayurvedic leaders went ahead and created standards that distanced more qualified practitioners from the spa-based Ayurveda performed by individuals with little or no training. According to the article, “their efforts paid off when Ayurveda was officially approved as one of four [practitioner types] … for the national diploma by the State Secretariat for Education Research and Innovation (SERI).” The practitioners believe the recognition will pave the way for recognition by the Swiss insurance industry.
Comment: This is big news on two fronts. The most important is the interprofessional democratization reflected in the decision to offer recognition to the four practitioner types. One of the gross injustices in the integration movement is when “alternatives” are recognized only if practiced by people who are not expert in them—regular medical professionals. The assumption is that care will be better from person typically-less thoroughly trained in the modality in whom the system has prior trust than in a well-trained professional who has before then been viewed as an untouchable. Experience shows that the first step often leads to the sort of broader opening that is happening here. Now we will see if the Swiss insurers will follow suit.
The recognition is particularly important for the global Ayurvedic movement. These practitioner have not typically gained licensed or regulated status in the West in the way that TCM practitioners have. The Swiss decision surely is being celebrated in India where the government, with its new Ministry of AYUSH, is increasingly speaking of exporting its native medical traditions and products in the way China has.