Janice Block, M.D., is an integrative medical doctor with over 20 years of experience. She practices classical homeopathy in Israel through Kupat Cholim Leumit, one of the four public health providers in Israel, and also privately. Dr. Block received her medical degree from the University of Miami School of Medicine, and later received further training in alternative medicines, including homeopathy, medical herbalism, hypnotherapy, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and naturopathy. Dr. Block has a special interest in the areas of overlap between homeopathy and conventional medicine. In April 2018, she published the book Cardiac Examination in Homeopathy: A Practical Approach to Examination, in the Tradition of the Homeopathic Masters.
LN: Thank you for joining me to talk about your recent book, Cardiac Examination in Homeopathy, which is extraordinary in many ways. When it was suggested that I interview you, my reply was, “Why me? Why not someone with a strong knowledge of homeopathic cardiology?” The answer was, “There’s no one – or very few people – doing this kind of work!”
JB: First of all, I myself am not a cardiologist. I’m a general practitioner. I was trained in pediatrics and over the years I’ve come to treat adults as well. When I went into homeopathy, my background as a general practitioner actually made it easier for me because homeopathy is so holistic. You can’t only understand the heart. You can’t focus on only one organ or one system. In a way, I feel more equipped to write a book about homeopathic cardiology because of the need for a holistic answer for patients.
I wrote my book with the intention that it be something that anyone can learn from, whether it’s a homeopath without a lot of background in heart examination, or whether it’s a doctor with some background but who feels that he has become rusty. Nowadays we have echocardiograms and other high-tech options, and many conventional and homeopathic doctors have become less comfortable with performing and interpreting low-tech cardiac examinations. There’s also been some literature to this effect. I wanted to write a book that would not only teach someone who’s new to the area, but would also offer a reminder to those who need it.
LN: I would love to hear your story from the beginning. You have a broad range of skills and training in alternative medicines. When did you first become interested in homeopathy specifically?
JB:I came to homeopathy from a different path from a lot of other people. I was trained in the United States as a conventional Western physician. I’ve been practicing medicine for over 20 years and I did my residency in pediatrics. Most of my years of practice have been in Israel, where I reside now. Over the years, two aspects guided me toward a more integrative approach. One was my own frustration with the conventional medical field. In my mind there is no question that conventional medicine has great strengths, especially when it comes to medicine where you must make a decision now and it must be correct enough that the patient will get better right now, for example in trauma and other kinds of acute care. But for many other issues, there are frustrations when dealing with conventional medicine because a lot of it is dealing with symptoms, without really dealing with the underlying process. Patients don’t necessarily get better when we put them on pain medications for chronic pain, for example. This doesn’t take away their pain. It only makes them feel better temporarily and often worsens their pain in the long run. I think patients are frustrated with that.
That leads me to the second aspect, which is my patients. I have a very busy practice and for years my patients have been telling me about how they did this or that alternative modality and it was very helpful. They are so pleased that they bring their children in for an ear infection or sinusitis and they don’t have to give them antibiotics. Or they have a long-standing, chronic issue and they want to hear something other than, “Well, it’s in your head and you should relax.” They want something that’s actually going to treat it and stop it, and they were getting these kinds of results with homeopathy and other alternative modalities. They were going to reflexology, to acupuncture, to various other kinds of care and getting what they were looking for. That was what piqued my interest.
I’m a compulsive reader, an autodidact of sorts, so I read as many books as I could on all aspects of complementary and alternative medicine. Because of my busy practice, I was able to start using it on my patients who were interested and they were really excited about it. I tried various kinds of herbal and dietary treatments, hypnosis, and also homeopathy. In the end I felt most comfortable with homeopathy. I studied homepathy on my own, and also through a correspondence course offered by the Indian Board of Alternative Medicines. Afterward, I studied at the Segula Academy for Advanced Classical Homeopathy in Israel. Carmel Carty is the teacher there and she’s wonderful.
Initially, I was practicing integrative medicine quietly, on my own, but I was not yet recognized as a homeopath by the health basket. Later, one of the managers at the health basket warned me, saying, “It is forbidden to offer homeopathy to your patients. The health basket has not approved.” At that point I decided to make an issue out of it. I decided, “I want to be officially recognized as a homeopath.” I wanted to provide an official service that patients could count on over the long term. I had to wage a bit of a battle with the health basket in order to get the health basket to recognize my homeopathic and naturopathic services, but eventually they did recognize them.
LN: On your website you mention having “a special interest in the overlap between conventional medicine and homeopathy.” I’d like to hear what that actually means to youphilosophically and also in practice.
JB: One of the things that drew me to homeopathy was this overlap. The concept of the liver in Chinese medicine is very different from the concept of the liver in Western medicine. But when the old classic homeopaths talk about the liver, they’re talking about the same liver. We can do the same examination on that liver and we know what it is and we know what it does. Even though the approach, the ideology, and the types of treatments are different, the aspects of understanding and examination are very similar. As as a person with a lot of experience in the medical field, physical signs and symptoms are very important to me.
Of course I am very attentive to the psychologicals and mentals, but I am also especially interested in physical symptoms beyond what can be appreciated in an external way, like the color of your skin or your bowel movement. There are much more specific signs and symptoms that doctors are supposed to be trained to detect and that the old homeopaths also focused on more than most homeopaths today. When you look at some of the old materia medica and the repertories by Hering or some of the old therapeutic manuals written by Clark and others, you find that they also are very attentive to physical symptoms. When I came to know other homeopaths, I found that a lot of them are very involved in more psychological care, psychiatric or emotional-behavioral issues. They are less focused on the specific physical symptoms of heart disease or kidney disease, for example.
A rubric like “heart murmur” isn’t very specific at all. The more specific the symptom, the better it is at pinpointing which remedy is going to be most appropriate. If you find several physical symptoms that are very, very specific, often it directs you very well toward a remedy. I don’t only use physicals – I don’t want to give the wrong impression – but it’s so valuable to do the conventional medical examinations using our hands, a stethoscope, and our eyes in order to come up with better symptoms for our repertoires.
LN: You make a compelling case for what conventional medicine and homeopathy have in common, at a time when many in both fields are focused on what divides them. You mentioned the liver in TCM, which is just one of the other modalities you studied. Can you talk about how all those fit into your practice?
JB: I feel that it’s really important for patients to have a choice. Where I practice, there aren’t a lot of options for those who want other modalities. Some of my patients only want conventional medicine. Some want to be hypnotized, so I do that. Some want dietary interventions, vitamins, minerals, or herbs – I do that. But my personal preference for a lot of things is homeopathy because I find it works very well. Unlike some of the other modalities that are more temporary in their effects, homeopathy can have very long-lasting, often permanent results.
LN: What is it like for you to be doing this kind of work within the public healthcare system in Israel?
JB: I’m kind of on my own. I won’t say that there aren’t complementary providers offered through the public health system but we are few and widely spaced, so I often do feel alone. When I asked the public health system to officially recognize me as providing homeopathy and naturopathy, in addition to conventional care, initially they didn’t want to do that. They wanted to keep the two areas entirely distinct. They eventually conceded to my request because I had so many happy patients. When they finally saw that it was a formula that worked, they allowed me to do it.
Jerusalem is divided into four public health baskets and I’m the only officially recognized combined homeopath-medical doctor in the Jerusalem area for my public health basket. It’s a big chunk of the country. I also have a private practice but I prefer the public health clinic because it’s a much wider swath of people. Without any subsidy, it’s difficult for a lot of people who want to have alternative care to be able to afford all the follow-up visits required. In my public health clinic, I can follow up with them as often as I need and there’s never that financial pressure, or there’s much less of it.
LN: Have you seen any efforts in Israel aimed at bringing homeopathy and integrative care into the public health system more systematically, or are these decisions being made on an individual basis, as in your case?
JB: They’re still being made on an individual basis. I know that in other countries there are actual motions to include complementary care into the health system; in Israel that does not exist. Individual health baskets decide that, as part of an expanded care, they’re going to offer certain services and then they provide them as they decide. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done. The main professional organization for homeopaths in Israel, the Israel Society for Classical Homeopathy, was actually very small until recently. They’re just now starting to provide a lot more patient education and bring more experts to Israel. But I believe that the Israel Society for Classical Homeopathy needs to consolidate and increase its influence with the people first, and then it can take up the issue with the ministry of health. It’s not until lots and lots of people come to their representatives and say, “This is what we want covered” that it will happen, and we’re not there yet.
LN: Let’s hone in on your book, Cardiac Examination in Homeopathy. Where did your idea for the book come from?
JB: I am very interested in physical examination and I want to bring this back to conventional physicians as well, to help them to be more equipped to practice this basic cardiac examination. There are some areas of cardiology in which a physical examination is actually more accurate and more sensitive than an echocardiogram. For example, in the case of a mitral valve prolapse, which is very common, a low-tech cardiac examination can be even more sensitive than an echocardiogram. For a homeopath, of course, signs on physical examination are also useful in the repertorization process.
I also wrote the book because I have a certain approach to physical symptoms in particular. I feel that they’re really important. The more specific the physical symptom, the closer it is to something like a keynote, where you can really hone in on the remedy in a very successful way. This does not exclude the other dots that make up a full repertorization but you don’t need as many dots and each dot is much more powerful.
Heart disease is one of the areas of medicine where, the more equipped you are to elicit symptoms, the better. There is no substitute for a really good physical examination and a really good understanding of what the symptoms actually mean. The patient’s not going to tell you, “I have a systolic murmur which is blowing and it means this.” You have to draw it out of the patient through your physical examination.
In this book, I wanted to convey the idea of going back to a homeopathy that includes more specific physical symptoms, as in the old homeopathic literature. I wanted to show homeopaths how to take a physical examination. I wanted to write a book that anyone could open up and take these lessons to the field to help their patients.
I also have a dream for the future: that homeopathy will be more integrated into medical care and that there will be homeopaths in teams in hospitals and homeopaths working with other professionals. For that to happen, there has to be more of a common language. Doctors don’t understand, “This person has a syphilitic miasm.” “What do you mean, the person has syphilis? The person doesn’t have syphilis!” They don’t understand what we call “themes” and things like that. But if I can educate homeopaths in the language of medicine, then it’s inevitable that more respect will come to the field of homeopathy, which I think is due because homeopathy is very effective. The whole medical field speaks a language and we need to speak it too. That’s another aspect of why I wrote the book.
LN: How can a homeopath who is not a medical doctor and who is not doing extensive physical examinations make use of this book?
JB: I tried to make my explanations really clear so that someone who doesn’t have a medical background can learn this. There are laws regarding who can prescribe medications but there are no laws regarding who can take up a stethoscope and listen to a person’s heart. There is no reason why a homeopath can’t learn this. There are areas that were the bread and butter of conventional medicine in the past (for example, taking an extensive dietary history) and have become passé in conventional medicine. And who picked them up? The integrative doctors, the naturopaths, and also the homeopaths.
This is the same. I don’t know if most conventional doctors are going to go back to doing a thorough physical examination of the heart, but there’s no reason why I can’t teach someone else to do it so that they can improve what they do. I tried to be very clear with my language, diagrams, and glossary in the back of the book so that someone can really learn this. That’s very important to me.
LN: What can readers expect to find in the book?
JB: I start with the anatomy, the physiology, the embryology, then a physical examination that draws on all those things so that people can put it into context, then all the different kinds of heart disease, and then I tie everything in with the different symptoms. I also defined the antiquated terms that people are no longer familiar with and I provided a materia medica at the end. Finally, there is a section with links to websites on heart sounds so that you’re not just reading the words. You can actually hear what it sounds like and get started. That’s the idea: it’s a manual that someone can use and get started.
LN: Yes, you have included an impressive appendix with free resources where people can learn about cardiac auscultation. There’s also a materia medica that can be very helpful to any homeopath, whether they’re interested in deepening their research in this area or not. For those who want to learn more, are you planning on doing any teaching and are you open to invitations?
JB: Yes, absolutely. I would love to do more teaching, both about cardiac examination in homeopathy and other fields that are similar, where the physical symptoms and rubrics are really important. This October, I’m scheduled to speak on cardiac examination in homeopathy at the International Conference on Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Las Vegas. In addition to conferences, some other opportunities for more formal teaching are emerging as well.
LN: I hope many opportunities will come because this knowledge is a great gift to homeopathy. Is there anything else that you’d like to share with Hpathy readers before we wrap up?
JB: I wrote this book because I have two main dreams. The first is that homeopaths, whether they’re doctor homeopaths or non-doctor homeopaths, will take this information and use it to heal patients. The second is that my vision for the future is for homeopathy to become more mainstream and more incorporated into medical practice. There are so many aspects of conventional and complementary medicine where we have no idea how they work. We don’t have to know why something that’s supposedly diluted beyond Avogadro’s number works; we could save that for the future. But there’s a lot of clinical research that has become public – and Just One Drop just came out – about how effective homeopathy can be. I’ve seen so many dramatic successes that I want it to be available to more people. In Just One Drop, Rajan Sankaran talked about how he’s on his way to work every day and thinks, “This cannot possibly work,” and then he goes in and sees his patients getting better. I feel that way too sometimes, like I have no idea what’s going on here. This should not be working, and yet people’s lives are changing!