Context: An estimated 60 million Americans use some from of complementary and alternative medicine, though approximately 70% do not tell their physicians about this use. Open communication between conventional medical providers and patients in this area is therefore lacking.
Objective: To explore the dynamics that could potentially contribute to communication breakdown between physicians and patients over the use of alternative therapies.
Design: Mail-in, self-administered questionnaire.
Participants: 96 practitioners in primary care and medical subspecialties representing the local county medical society, Stark county, Ohio.
Main outcome measures: Data were obtained on the following: (1) physicians' level of familiarity with 23 different alternative therapies, (2) the question of whether physicians used the therapies themselves, (3) physicians' assessment of the potential benefits and harm of each therapy, and (4) physicians' response to the prospect of their patients using these therapies.
Results: Respondents reported the use of myriad alternative therapies. Only 28%, however, referred patients for alternative therapies. The physicians demonstrated clear preferences for specific therapies (i.e., when asked about benefits, familiarity, and reactions to patient use, they responded differently depending on the therapy). Indication that the doctor-patient relationship might be terminated as a result of alternative therapy use was more common among subspecialists than among primary care practitioners.
Conclusions: Overall, physicians demonstrated an open attitude toward alternative therapies. This finding indicates that patients should disclose their use of alternative therapies to their doctors. Increased referral to alternative healthcare providers may require both ongoing peer-reviewed studies of efficacy and increased physician access to information concerning therapies that have undergone definitive study.