Oncology clinicians' accounts of discussing complementary and alternative medicine with their patients

Health (London). 2009 May;13(3):317-36. doi: 10.1177/1363459308101806.


The profile of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) has risen dramatically over recent years, with cancer patients representing some of the highest users of any patient group. This article reports the results from a series of in-depth interviews with oncology consultants and oncology nurses in two hospitals in Australia. Analysis identifies a range of self-reported approaches with which oncology clinicians discuss CAM, highlighting the potential implications for patient care and inter-professional dynamics. The interview data suggest that, whilst there are a range of consultant approaches to CAM, ;risk' is consistently deployed rhetorically as a key regulatory strategy to frame CAM issues and potentially direct patient behaviour. Moreover, ;irrationality', ;seeking control', and ;desperation' were viewed by consultants as the main drivers of CAM use, presenting potential difficulties for effective doctor-patient dialogue about CAM. In contrast, oncology nurses appear to perceive their role as that of CAM and patient advocate - an approach disapproved of by the consultants on their respective teams, presenting implications for oncology teamwork. CAM education emerged as a contentious and crucial issue for oncology clinicians. Yet, while viewed as a key barrier to clinician-patient communication about CAM, various forms of individual and organizational resistance to CAM education were evident. A number of core issues for clinical practice and broader work in the sociology of CAM are discussed in light of these findings.

MeSH terms

  • Communication*
  • Complementary Therapies*
  • Disclosure
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Medical Oncology*
  • Nurse-Patient Relations*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Queensland
  • Social Support