Are people who use complementary therapies dissatisfied with conventional medical care?




Ann Intern Med

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Complementary and alternative medical therapies have become more common over the past two decades. This emerging field covers numerous treatments including acupuncture, herbal therapies, massage therapies, chiropractic, aromatherapy, and Traditional Chinese Medicine, to name only a few. From the initial stages of development has grown a huge population of individuals whose personal health goals include the concept of preventing disease and staying healthy. While the movement actually started almost a half century ago, the growth has been most significant with the aging of the baby boomer population. Studies show that literally millions of Americans are using complementary and alternative therapies. One such study showed that approximately 3 of every 10 respondents in the pre–baby boom group, 5 of 10 in the baby boom group, and 7 of 10 in the post–baby boom group reported using some type of CAM therapy by the age of 33 years.1
Having been recognized as a trend that will not be going away, complementary and alternative medical (CAM) was given government attention when the National Institute of Health established the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Therapies. The review of this field continues and efforts are being made to determine what the future will hold. One question that has been asked is whether or not people using CAM therapy use it alone or in combination with their conventional treatment.
To examine this further a study was conducted to evaluate just how people did manage their treatment with CAM. A nationwide, random-household telephone survey was conducted to note the perceptions about complementary and alternative medical (CAM) therapy among people in the contiguous United States who use both CAM and conventional therapy. Eight hundred and thirty one adults who saw a medical doctor and used CAM therapies in 1997 participated in the survey. Seventy nine percent of all survey participants felt that the combination of the two therapies was superior to either therapy alone. There were 411 survey respondents that saw both a medical doctor and a CAM provider that year. Seventy percent said they saw a medical doctor before or concurrently with their CAM visits, whereas 15% said they saw the CAM provider first. The confidence in the two providers was not significantly different. Of the respondents who had seen a medical doctor, 63% to 72% did not inform the medial doctor of one or more types of CAM therapies being utilized.
The surveyors concluded, "National survey data do not support the view that use of CAM therapy in the United States primarily reflects dissatisfaction with conventional care. Adults who use both appear to value both and tend to be less concerned about their medical doctor's disapproval than about their doctor's inability to understand or incorporate CAM therapy use within the context of their medical management."


1. Ronald C, et al. Long-Term Trends in the Use of Complementary and Alternative Medical Therapies in the United States. Ann Intern Med. Aug 2001;135:262-268.