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How to Talk to Your Doctor About Complementary and Alternative Medicine

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rerun image Are you interested in trying a supplement or therapy that you think may fall under the category of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)? How do you bring up this topic with your doctor?

A Look at CAM

What exactly is CAM? Coming up with a definition is not simple. This is because CAM consists of a range of products, therapies, and systems of healing. Complementary medicine uses non-mainstream methods of treatment in combination with conventional ones. Alternative therapies exclusively use non-mainstream treatments without any conventional ones.

In terms of today's approach to medical care, you may find it easy to locate a doctor who is open to the concept complementary medicine. Over time, many treatments that were considered non-mainstream, such as massage or acupuncture, have become more conventional. In contrast, you may have difficulty finding a doctor that will use alternative therapies without any conventional ones. As it is defined, alternative therapies are rarely recommended by doctors and there is not much evidence to support their use as primary treatment.

Examples of CAM therapies popular in the US include:

Reasons for Starting the Discussion

Why is it so important to make CAM a topic of conversation? While you may think that natural products or therapies are less likely to cause harm, the truth is that there can be dangerous side effects. You need to talk to your doctor about CAM because:

  • Some dietary supplements and herbal remedies can adversely affect the medications you are taking.
  • CAM treatments may have unintended effects on chronic conditions you may have.
  • You and your doctor share the responsibility for making sure you receive the best care possible. This means providing all information that can potentially influence your health.
  • Your research may provide you with a sense that complementary medicine is more effective than conventional care. Your doctor will be able to clarify any information you find.

Talking Points

Follow these guidelines to prepare for a discussion about CAM:

  • Create a list and share it with your doctor and other healthcare providers. Your list should include:
    • Any conditions you have
    • Over-the-counter and prescription medications that you take
    • Herbs and other dietary supplements that you take
    • CAM treatments you use or are thinking of trying
  • Learn as much as you can about the CAM treatment that interests you. Reliable websites, like the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, provide background information on a range of therapies and, in some cases, research results.
  • As you learn more about the CAM treatment, you are sure to have many questions. Write them down and share them with your doctor. For example, you will want to find out if the treatment is safe considering your:
    • Overall health
    • Medical history
    • Medications and supplements
  • If you still feel unsure about whether CAM is a good choice for you, ask your doctor. Do not be concerned that they will treat you any differently. The best healthcare providers are eager to discuss any promising strategy intended to improve the health of their patients.

Remember, too, that all of the professionals who make up your healthcare team rely on you to share information with them. If you are planning to try a new CAM treatment or have already been using one, do not keep this to yourself. It is in your best interest to speak up.

Revision Information

  • American Academy of Family Physicians

    http://www.aafp.org

  • National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine

    http://nccam.nih.gov

  • The College of Family Physicians of Canada

    http://www.cfpc.ca

  • Health Canada

    http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

  • Are you considering complementary and alternative medicine? National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine website. Available at: http://nccam.nih.gov/health/decisions/consideringcam.htm. Updated March 2013. Accessed October 18, 2013.

  • Tips for talking to your provider about CAM. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://cam.cancer.gov/cam/attachments/workbook/tips%5Ffor%5Ftalking%5Fto%5Fprovider.pdf. Accessed October 18, 2013.

  • Tips for talking with your health care providers about CAM. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine website. Available at: http://nccam.nih.gov/timetotalk/forpatients.htm. Updated July 31, 2012. Accessed October 18, 2013.

  • What is complementary and alternative medicine? National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine website. Available at: http://nccam.nih.gov/health/whatiscam. Updated May 2013. Accessed October 18, 2013.