Legal issues in the delivery of alternative medicine

J Am Med Womens Assoc (1972). Fall 1999;54(4):173-6.


As use of alternative therapies grows, there appears to be heightened concern among health care professionals about the liability implications of delivering these therapies. Little is known about malpractice law in this area. We begin by reviewing the type and frequency of claims brought against alternative medicine practitioners and by analyzing the standard of care to which these practitioners are held when sued. Next we turn to the standard of care question as it relates to physicians (MDs/DOs) who incorporate alternative therapies into their practices. Few cases have addressed this question to date. We argue, however, that when courts decide cases at the intersection between conventional and alternative medicine, they may judge conduct according to standards enunciated by: 1) alternative medicine practitioners who regularly deliver the treatment at issue, 2) physicians who have established similar practices, or 3) conventional practitioners. This latter possibility should be taken seriously; it raises troubling questions for physicians at the outset of the negligence inquiry. Available case law highlights the importance of ensuring that patients are fully informed about any alternative therapies they elect to receive, as well as any conventional treatments they may be foregoing, and that patients expressly consent to treatment in light of this information, preferably in writing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Complementary Therapies / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Complementary Therapies / standards
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Liability, Legal*
  • Malpractice / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Referral and Consultation