Objectives: The objective of this study was to ascertain the extent to which demographic and health-related variables are related to visits to a complementary or alternative medicine (CAM) practitioner.
Methods: This study reports a secondary analysis of visits to CAM practitioners during the year before the 1996 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (n = 16,038).
Results: Overall visits to CAM providers (9%) were lower than reported in widely cited surveys but quite consistent with a previous Robert Wood Johnson study that used a similar sampling procedure. Gender, education, age, geographic location, and race (Hispanics and African Americans proved to be less likely to visit CAM providers than whites) were statistically significant predictors of visits to CAM providers. Individuals in poorer health and those suffering from mental, musculoskeletal, and metabolic disorders also tended to be more likely to have visited a CAM provider.
Conclusions: Although the choice of alternative versus orthodox treatment appears to be a complex phenomenon, these data suggest that the heaviest users of CAM therapies tend to be individuals with comorbid, non-life-threatening health problems. This finding may help to ameliorate concerns that this type of care is being used in lieu of therapies with more definitive efficacy evidence.