Methods: Australian general practitioners' (GPs) attitudes toward and use of a range of complementary therapies (CTs) were determined through a self-administered postal survey sent to a random sample of 2000 Australian GPs. The survey canvassed GPs' opinions as to the harmfulness and effectiveness of CTs; current levels of training and interest in further training; personal use of, and use in practice of, CTs; referrals to CT; practitioners; appropriateness for GPs to practice and for government regulation; perceived patient demand and the need for undergraduate education.
Results: The response rate was 33.2%. Based on GPs' responses, complementary therapies could be classified into: nonmedicinal and nonmanipulative therapies, such as acupuncture, massage, meditation, yoga, and hypnosis, that were seen to be highly effective and safe; medicinal and manipulative therapies, including chiropractic, Chinese herbal medicine, osteopathy, herbal medicine, vitamin and mineral therapy, naturopathy, and homeopathy, which more GPs considered potentially harmful than potentially effective; and esoteric therapies, such as spiritual healing, aromatherapy, and reflexology, which were seen to be relatively safe yet also relatively ineffective. The risks of CTs were seen to mainly arise from incorrect, inadequate, or delayed diagnoses and interactions between complementary medications and pharmaceuticals, rather than the specific risks of the therapies themselves.
Conclusions: Nonmedicinal therapies along with chiropractic are widely accepted in Australia and can be considered mainstream. GPs are open to training in complementary therapies, and better communication between patients and GPs about use of CTs is required to minimize the risk of adverse events. There is also a need to prioritize and provide funding for further research into the potential adverse events from these therapies and other therapies currently lacking an evidence base.