Background: The use of various forms of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) has become widespread. We investigated this use in Madison, Wisconsin.
Methods: We conducted semistructured indepth interviews focused on the knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of a random sample of 17 patients who had used both CAM and conventional therapies during the past year. Participants were recruited using telephone listings. Twenty alternative practitioners were selected to represent the major modalities. The topics discussed included healing philosophy, choices of therapeutic methods, and ideas concerning concurrent use of differing therapeutic modalities. An 8-member multidisciplinary team analyzed the transcripts individually and in group meetings.
Results: Four major themes emerged from the interview data: (1) holism, (2) empowerment, (3) access, and (4) legitimization. Both patients and providers distinguished between the socially legitimized and widely accessible but disempowering and mechanistic attributes of conventional medicine and the holistic and empowering but relatively less accessible and less legitimate nature of alternative healing. There was a strong call for integrating the best aspects of both.
Conclusions: Practitioners and users of alternative therapies in the Madison area confirmed both the alternative and complementary natures of unconventional health care, called for more integrated and accessible health care, and provided insights that could be useful in bridging the gap between conventional and alternative medicine.