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Complimentary Medicine Popular with Healthcare Workers

by Guy McCardle

August 23, 2011

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Donate A new study reveals that nearly three quarters of U.S. healthcare workers utilize the services of complementary and alternative medical (CAM) practitioners. The most common reason given was to alleviate anxiety. As reported in the journal Health Services Research by Pamela Jo Johnson, MPH, PhD, 76% of healthcare professionals said they used at least one form of complementary or alternative therapy compared with 63% of the general population.

Multiple studies in recent years conducted in both the U.S. and the UK show the same trend in regards to CAM. The most commonly reported reasons for using either practitioner-based CAM or self-treatment were to maintain a sense of well-being and relieve stress.

In the interest of full disclosure I must admit that I, a longtime healthcare professional, have used CAM from time to time with varying degrees of efficacy. I still occasionally grab for a cup of chamomile and valerian tea or a melatonin capsule when I have trouble sleeping. Sometimes it seems to work, sometimes not so much. Following a car accident in 2006 my neurologist recommended that I receive treatment from a massage therapist. Regarding that I must note that the massage therapists were employed in his medical office by him. The treatments did little to relieve my pain.

Complementary or alternative therapies can be delivered by a practitioner or be self-administered, and include the following:
  • Biologically-based methods: Diet-based therapies, vitamins

  • Energy methods: Energy healing, reiki

  • Manipulative and body-based methods: Alexander technique, massage, Pilates

  • Mind-body methods: Biofeedback, hypnotism, tai chi, yoga

  • Whole medical methods: Acupuncture, naturopathy

Despite their immense popularity, most medical doctors remain skeptical about the usefulness and safety of CAM treatments.

Surveys of general practitioners in the UK showed that they seem to take a somewhat more accepting attitude towards alternative medicine than their American counterparts. Fifty nine percent of general practitioners (medical doctors) in the UK regarded specific therapies (e.g. acupuncture, herbal medicine and homeopathy) to be useful to their patients, particularly favoring spinal manipulation. A small but growing number of doctors are beginning to offer CAM therapies at their practice as a response to the requests of their patients.

Why all this continued interest in alternative medicine? My best guess is that there are multiple reasons. Traditional medical doctors may be more apt to recommend alternative therapies (especially those such as manipulative therapies) as they become more reimbursable by insurance companies. Patients are becoming more likely to ask for referrals to CAM practitioners as the popular media continues to sing their praises. A major reason, I feel, has to do with good old fashioned communication. Alternative practitioners are much more likely to be able to spend more time with each patient. As a whole, they are more likely to have the time to listen to patients with a sympathetic ear. They often tell patients what they want to hear regarding the possibility of a cure or relieving their symptoms.

I urge patients to listen carefully to their medical doctors regarding their course of treatment. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but be prepared to receive a concise answer. Do your homework: Chances are the more you learn about some of these alternative therapies the less willing you will be to pay for them out of pocket. View with extreme skepticism anyone who tells you not to heed the advice of your medical doctor.

Remember: A well informed patient remains the best advocate of their own healthcare.

by Guy McCardle

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