Advising patients on the use of complementary and alternative medicine

Journal Article

By: Wayne B Jonas
Publication Name: Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback
Year: 2001

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is an area of great public interest and activity, both nationally and worldwide. Many alternative medical practices have existed for hundreds, even thousands of years. Patients and professionals are turning to CAM for a variety of reasons. Most have tried conventional medicine for a particular (usually chronic) medical condition and have found the results inadequate. Some are concerned over the side effects of conventional therapies. Some are seeking out a more ""holistic"" orientation in health care where they can address body, mind, and spirit. A continuing challenge will be how to address CAM services that are based on time, practitioner-patient interactions, and self-care, using modern standards of evidence, education, licensing, and reimbursement. For most CAM therapies, there is insufficient research to say definitively that it works and CAM research is especially limited in the area of cancer. Given that situation, the questions (but not answers) facing the medical practitioner are clear-cut. Should the practitioner await the definitive results of formal Phase III randomized clinical trials, or should the practitioner rely on limited data, seeking out evidence that makes physiological sense and small trials that seem to offer some benefit to the patient? When and at what point do you discourage, permit, or recommend an available alternative therapy? The answers are not simple. There may be differences of opinion and values among the patient, the practitioner, and the organizations that pay for a therapy. CAM areas should be approached with every patient who enters the office recognizing that there are precautions to consider when patients are using, or plan to use, such therapies. This paper presents a broad survey of what complementary and alternative medicine is from the perspectives of both the public as user and the conventional medical practitioner, as well as provides examples of issues pertinent to understanding and evaluating research in CAM. The past is back and the future will involve integration of modern and ancient ways.

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