The interest in alternative medicine (AM) is growing. In the USA and Canada, studies showed that 34% of adults and 11% of children use AM. In a prospective cohort study, we investigated the interest in AM among parents of critically ill children in the paediatric Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of a university hospital. From January 1996 to April 1997, we distributed questionnaires to the parents of critically ill children. These strictly anonymous questionnaires were completed at home and returned by mail. Exclusion criteria were short ( < 1 day) or repeated hospitalizations, and insufficient proficiency of the German language. The inclusion criteria were fulfilled by 591 patients; 561 received the questionnaire (95%) and 289 (52%) were returned. Of the respondents, 70% would appreciate AM as a complementary therapy on the ICU, 23% found AM equally or more important than conventional medicine whereas only 7% regarded AM as unimportant. On the ICU, 18% used AM; surprisingly 41% of them did not discuss it with physicians or nurses. An additional 21% would have liked to use AM, but did not do so. Typically, AM-users administered AM also at home to their children and themselves. Their children were however, older.
Conclusions: A substantial proportion of parents used measures of alternative medicine in the intensive care unit, or would have like to do so. However, few had the confidence to discuss this wish with the medical personal. This suggests that alternative medicine is of great interest, even on an intensive care unit. Nevertheless, discussion about alternative medicine seems to be taboo in doctor-patient relations.