For a few years I have been part of a group called the Collaborative Medicine Working Group, which was recently renamed the Integrative Health Collaborative. This group is comprised of many different alternative practitioners, MD’s who use complementary alternative medicine (CAM) in their practices, and people who are personally interested in the topics discussed. I have always fallen into the last group, although now I feel a more justified seat at the table in my new role as a wellness blogger!
This group meets monthly in Boston to discuss a range of issues. We typically have one presenter for each meeting, some experiential component, and time for networking.
We recently had our first meeting of the year with the fascinating topic – When Conventional Medical Providers Recommend Unconventional Medicine. Aditi Nerurkar , MD, MPH was the lead author on this research project and came to share her work with our group.
Dr. Nerurkar and her team looked at the 38% of Americans who responded to the National Health Interview Survey that they used CAM. Within that group, 15% were using CAM at the recommendation of their health care provider. This research project compared people who used CAM on their own vs. people who used CAM at the recommendation of their doctor.
The results were interesting. The patients who were referred to CAM by their doctor had worse overall outcomes than those who weren’t referred. Doctors typically wait and prescribe CAM as a last resort for their sickest patients. These were patients who often had multiple health issues and had exhausted the traditional western options. People who used CAM on their own were usually healthier overall and used CAM for prevention and minor issues instead of as a last resort. It is clear from this study that MD’s need to begin recommending CAM earlier in the course of treatment. It shouldn’t be viewed as a last ditch effort, but as a critical part of the healing process.
What does this mean for you and me? It means beginning the conversation about CAM early with your doctors. Let them know this is something you are interested in and want to pursue. I have found that some doctors are much more open than others, but either way you want your doctor to understand what is important to you and how you approach your health and wellness.
This also means we should all remember to use CAM in our prevention regimen and at the earliest sign of trouble. Gentle CAM treatments can sometimes take a while to become fully effective, so it’s best to start early. And please don’t use CAM as a last resort! I think of my health care in exactly the reverse order. I like to try non-invasive (and typically low side-effect) CAM treatments first and only turn to Western medicine in emergency situations.
Please note – I am not a medical doctor or practitioner. All comments in this post reflect my personal views and are not meant as official medical recommendations.