Characteristics of Provider-Focused Research on Complementary and Integrative Medicine in Palliative Care: A Scoping Review

Am J Hosp Palliat Care. 2022 Mar;39(3):370-387. doi: 10.1177/10499091211011708. Epub 2021 Apr 23.


Background: The use of complementary and integrative medicine (CIM) continues to grow in palliative care. While research supports the use of many CIM therapies for symptom relief, the scope of provider-focused research on CIM remains poorly characterized.

Objectives: We conducted a scoping review to characterize provider-focused research on CIM in palliative care in order to map existing evidence and identify knowledge gaps.

Methods: We developed a protocol outlining the study population, concept, and context; then used a validated approach per the JBI manual and searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, and AMED.

Results: We identified 34 studies that were conducted primarily in the US (n = 9) and UK (n = 6), focused mostly on nurse (n = 29) and physician (n = 22) providers, and employed questionnaires (n = 16) or qualitative (n = 15) methods. Studies investigated 58 CIM modalities, including massage (n = 13), music therapy (n = 12), and aromatherapy (n = 10), to address common symptoms including pain (n = 17), fatigue (n = 6), and nausea/vomiting (n = 6). Study outcomes included perceived benefits of CIM (n = 17) and types of CIM modalities that providers offer (n = 15). Uncommonly studied phenomena included referral patterns (n = 4), facilitators of provider recommendation of CIM (n = 3), and rates of CIM use (n = 3).

Conclusion: Provider-focused research on CIM in palliative care can expand its scope by addressing perspectives of interdisciplinary providers, examining CIM modalities that patients report using, addressing symptoms commonly encountered in palliative care, and researching provider-use-focused outcomes. We identify these possibilities for future studies in addition to opportunities for systematic investigations to enhance the safe and efficacious delivery of CIM in the palliative care setting.

Keywords: alternative; attitudes; complementary; integrative; palliative care; scoping review.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Hospice and Palliative Care Nursing*
  • Humans
  • Integrative Medicine*
  • Pain
  • Pain Management
  • Palliative Care