Objective: Our study explored the attitudes of patients toward complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) use, their family physicians' role regarding CAM, and models for CAM referral and treatment. We compared patients' perspectives regarding integration of CAM into primary care with attitudes of primary care physicians (PCPs) and CAM practitioners.
Methods: We conducted a comprehensive literature review and focus group discussions to develop a questionnaire, which we gave to three groups: a random sample of patients receiving care at an academic family medicine clinic and PCPs and CAM practitioners employed in the largest health maintenance organization in Israel.
Results: A total of 1150 patients, 333 PCPs, and 241 CAM practitioners responded to our questionnaire. Compared with PCPs, patients expected their family physician to refer them to CAM, to have updated knowledge about CAM, and to offer CAM treatment in the clinic based on appropriate training. When asked about CAM integration into medical care, more patients expected to receive CAM in a primary care setting compared to PCPs' expectations of prescribing CAM (62% vs. 30%; p=0.0001). Patients, CAM practitioners, and PCPs expected family practitioners to generate CAM referrals in an integrative primary care setting (85.6% vs. 82.4% vs. 62.6%; p<0.0001). Patients supported CAM practitioners providing CAM treatments in the primary care setting, regardless of whether the practitioner held a medical degree (MD). Also, more patients than PCPs or CAM practitioners expected their family physician to provide CAM (28.2% vs. 14.5% vs. 3.8%; p<0.0001).
Conclusion: Patients, PCPs, and CAM practitioners suggested that family physicians play a central role in CAM referral and, to a lesser extent, that they actually provide CAM treatment themselves.
Practice implications: PCPs need to be aware of their present and future role in informed referral to CAM and, to a lesser degree, in providing CAM in integrative primary care clinics. With the increasing use of CAM, patients may expect their family physician to be more knowledgeable, skillful, and have a balanced approach regarding CAM use. In addition, practitioners should learn how to communicate effectively and better collaborate with CAM practitioners to the benefit of their patients.