Perhaps it was inevitable that the first director of the Office of Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health would find the pressures of the job untenable. Hampered by a minuscule $2 million budget, caught between the enthusiasm of ardent believers in various alternative methods of treatment and the strict demands and glacial pace of traditional scientific investigations, Dr. Joseph Jacobs announced this week that he would return to his Connecticut home and to other medical pursuits. His departure leaves open a post that has important implications for the health care debate.
Dr. Jacobs, who took the job when the office was created in 1992, came with qualifications that are crucial in such a post. A pediatrician trained in Western medicine, he is also a Native American who understands traditional ways of healing. His replacement will need a similar ability to bridge the gap between orthodox and alternative forms of medicine.
Alternative forms of medical practice -- acupuncture, homeopathy, chiropractic medicine, biofeedback and the like -- have plenty of satisfied customers. A study conducted by Harvard University researchers found that in 1990, 34 percent of Americans used at least one non-orthodox form of medical therapy, spending $13.7 billion.