Background: Despite the growing popularity of complementary and alternative medical (CAM) therapies, little is known about the professionals who provide them. Our objective was to describe the characteristics of the four largest groups of licensed CAM providers in the United States and to compare them with the characteristics of conventional physicians.
Methods: Random statewide samples of licensed acupuncturists, chiropractors, massage therapists, and naturopathic physicians living in Arizona, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Washington were interviewed by telephone. Sociodemographic, training, and practice characteristics of CAM providers were elicited and compared with data on conventional physicians published by the American Medical Association.
Results: More than 160 providers in each profession were interviewed. Participation rates ranged between 78% and 94% except for Arizona chiropractors (61%). The proportion of female respondents was highest for massage therapy (85%) and acupuncture and naturopathy (almost 60%) and was lowest for chiropractic (about 25%) and conventional medicine (23%). Except for acupuncturists, only 5% of CAM providers were nonwhite. CAM providers were more likely than conventional physicians to practice solo (51%-74% vs 26%, respectively), and less than 10% practiced with medical physicians. Massage therapists saw the fewest patients per week (about 14), and chiropractors and conventional physicians the most (about 100). Chiropractors and conventional physicians saw about 3 patients per hour compared with roughly 1 patient per hour for the other CAM professions. Interstate differences were small.
Conclusions: This characterization of CAM providers will help inform decisions about the future role of CAM providers in the health care system.