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CAM and Conventional Medicine: Patient Perceptions

Visits to providers of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) increased in the U.S. an estimated 47% between 1990 and 1997, yet studies have only recently begun to reveal information about perceptions of CAM and its comparison to conventional medicine.

To determine perceptions regarding the helpfulness and patterns of CAM use relative to conventional medicine, the authors surveyed 831 subjects who had used both CAM and conventional medicine in 1997. The primary findings of the study are listed below:

  • 79% perceived a combination of CAM and conventional medicine as superior to either by itself.
  • Regarding sequence of use: 51% used conventional first; 15% used CAM first; 19% sought both concurrently.
  • Confidence was slightly higher in CAM providers than medical doctors.
  • 63% did not tell their medical doctor about CAM use; of these, the reason given in 61% of cases was "It wasn't important for the doctor to know."
  • Subjects perceived CAM therapies as more effective for back, neck, and head pain, but conventional therapy better for hypertension.

The authors conclude, "Collectively, these data suggest that many patients ... view medical doctors as members of a larger, patient-selected health care team. Increasingly, medical doctors are being viewed as one of several professionals whom the average adult seeks for advice or treatment of health-related matters."

Note: Many people state that the primary reason patients will not tell their medical doctor about their use of CAM is that their MD will not approve of such a decision. According to this survey, only 14% of the respondents felt this way.

Eisenberg DM, Kessler RC, Van Rompay MI, et al. Perceptions about complementary therapies relative to conventional therapies among adults who use both: Results from a national survey. Annals of Internal Medicine, September 4, 2001:135 (5), pp. 344-351.


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Date Last Modified - Monday, 27-Jul-2009 09:13:02 PDT