Background: The results of a survey of decision makers (directors of clinical departments, along with research and education institutes) at German medical schools in 1997 demonstrated that although most respondents were in favour of integrating complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) into medical school curricula, only a minority had implemented these into their medical schools. The aims of this study were to evaluate the current opinions on CAM from decision makers at medical schools in three German-speaking countries and the present extent to which it has been integrated.
Methods: In 2004 we sent a standardised questionnaire to 1,017 department directors at medical schools in Austria (A, n = 75), Germany (G, n = 873) and Switzerland (CH, n = 69).
Results: 487 questionnaires (overall response rate: 48%, country-specific response rate: A 39%; G 49%; S 42%) were returned. 40% of respondents had a positive opinion on CAM, whereas 28% had a neutral and 29% a negative opinion and 3% were unsure with a significant difference between Germany (44% positive opinion) in favour for CAM vs. Switzerland (22%; p = 0,021). The CAM therapies rated most positively were acupuncture (53%), osteopathy (52%) and naturopathy (38%) with no statistical differences between the countries. Naturopathy (39%) and herbal medicine (34%) were viewed more positively in Germany compared to Austria (4%, p = 0.001 and 8%, p = 0.01), but not to Switzerland (27%, p = 0.289 and 24%, p = 0.353). The majority of respondents favoured the integration of CAM into the medical system (research 85%, teaching 84% and treatment 60%). However, only 162 respondents (34%) indicated that CAM therapies had already been integrated into the curriculum at their medical schools (treatment 26%, research 19% and education 18%) with no significant differences between the countries. Respondents of Switzerland indicated lower activity of CAM integration (treatment 10% and research 10%) compared to Austria (28%, p = 0.016 and 28%, p = 0.016) and Germany (27%, p = 0.01 and 20%, p = 0.174).
Conclusions: The majority of respondents favoured the integration of CAM into the medical system. However, this integration remains limited and does not reflect the high usage of CAM in the population.