Objectives: To examine patients' reasons for seeking complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in the National Health Service, including the nature and duration of the patient's main health problem, the impact of CAM on this, satisfaction with clinical care, and usage of conventional prescription medication.
Design: Survey (n=499).
Setting: Out-patient Department, The Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, a National Health Service facility dedicated to CAM.
Results: Five hundred and six questionnaires were returned, 499 were analysed. Patients' most frequent reasons for seeking CAM were that other treatment had not helped, and concerns about or experience of adverse treatment reactions. Two hundred and ninety-seven patients (63%) had had their main problem for more than 5 years. Musculoskeletal system problems were the most frequent diagnostic group (n=151, 32%). Satisfaction with clinical care was high (443/490: 90%). Three hundred and eighty patients (81%) indicated their main problem had improved very much, moderately or slightly. Of the 262 patients who had been taking prescription medicines when they first attended, 76 (29%) had stopped, and 84 (32%) had reduced their intake.
Conclusions: The results suggest that orthodox medicine is not meeting the needs of some patients and that CAM may wholly or partly substitute for conventional medicines. Most patients indicated their problem had improved with CAM. Implications for future research are discussed.