Talking About CAM Therapies

By  ,  National Institute of Health
Jan 18, 2013

Nearly two-thirds of older Americans use some form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), but less than one-third of them discuss it with their doctors.  That’s according to a recent survey conducted by AARP and NIH.  The news is disturbing, because doctors need to know about your CAM therapies so they have a full picture of everything you are doing to manage your health.

CAM includes any health practices outside the realm of conventional medicine as practiced in the U.S., such as herbal supplements, meditation, homeopathy and acupuncture.
Researchers asked 1,559 people, age 50 or older, about conversations with their doctors about CAM.  Although 63% of those surveyed said they had used at least 1 CAM therapy, nearly 70% of them had not discussed it with a physician.  Their top reasons:  The physician never asked; they didn’t know they should bring it up; or there wasn’t enough time during the office visit.  Some patients thought their doctors might react negatively or be unwilling to discuss CAM therapies.

Nearly three-fourths of those surveyed said they take one or more prescription medications, and nearly 60% said they take one or more over-the-counter medications.  CAM therapies and conventional treatments can interact in unintended ways.  This study underscores the need for patients and their doctors to discuss all therapies, including CAM, to ensure safe, integrated health care.

Talk to Your Doctor About CAM

•    If you are considering a CAM therapy, ask your physician about its safety, effectiveness and possible interactions with your current medications.
•    Tell your doctor about all therapies or treatments you’re now using, including over-the-counter and prescription medicines, as well as herbal and dietary supplements.
•    When filling out patient history forms, be sure to include all therapies and treatments you use.  Consider making a list before you go to the doctor’s office.
•    Don’t wait for your doctor to ask about your use of CAM.  Bring up the topic yourself.

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