Alternative Medicine

Alternative Medicine usually refers to a modality such as acupuncture, other types of body work, herbal therapy or nutritional therapies used in place of, i.e. as an alternative to a conventional medical treatment. More types of alternative medicine include: 1) Alternative medical systems (e.g., traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture, homeopathy, naturopathy, ayurveda), 2) Mind/Body techniques (e.g., meditation, biofeedback, relaxation, hypnotherapy), 3) Biologically based therapies (e.g., herbal therapies), 4) Body based therapies (e.g., chiropractic, massage, reflexology), and 5) Energy therapies (e.g., reiki, therapeutic touch)

When to use Alternative Medicine

Alternative medicine therapies should not be used for acute medical illness for adults or children. They are more appropriately used for non-acute, chronic illness and mild stress induced problems. They are not recommended by conventional medical doctors as a substitute for cancer treatments but may be used in addition to conventional treatments.

Most practitioners of alternative medicine are non-physicians although some physicians have trained to perform acupuncture and other modalities. The other practitioners may or may not be required to be licensed in a particular therapy by their state.

Some alternative medicine therapies have substantial medical research such as acupuncture and biofeedback. Other therapies have much less formal research but have a long history of cultural validation such as Chinese and Ayurvedic Medicine and forms of meditation.

Definition of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

A group of diverse medical and healthcare systems, practices and products that are not presently considered an integral part of conventional medicine. Complementary medicine is used together with conventional medicine, and alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medicine. Since a holistic approach brings together the best of conventional, complementary and alternative methods of treatment, the preferred term today is integrative medicine.

  • 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. use some form of CAM each year
  • $34 billion spent on CAM in 2007 – mostly out-of-pocket – $12 billion on visits to practitioners, $22 billion on products, classes and materials
  • Over $10BL spent on CAM research in last ten years
  • Chronic back, neck and joint pain are most likely to generate CAM usage
  • The global market for herbal medicines is over $60 billion annually, and is growing steadily
  • In 2007, more than 3.1 million people used acupuncture and Chinese medicine – a 50% increase since 2002
  • 2/3 of adults using CAM don’t tell their doctors
  • More than 50 U.S. hospitals and medical centers have integrative medicine centers or programs

Many health plans offer CAM discount programs and/or coverage for certain Complementary and Alternative Medicine treatments if prescribed by a medical doctor.

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