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Use of alternative health practitioners falls

July 30, 2009 |  9:32 am

CAM A national survey reflecting consumers' use of alternative and complementary medicine (CAM) shows that the use of self-care therapies has increased and that the use of CAM healthcare professionals has decreased. Additionally, certain practices are falling out of favor while more science-based treatments remain popular.

The National Institutes of Health survey is the first in 10 years to assess Americans' interest in herbal and homeopathic treatments, energy healing, acupuncture, tai chi and other healing practices. Researchers surveyed more than 75,000 adults in 2007. About 38% of the adults surveyed said they had used some form of CAM for preventative health purposes or to treat a disease or condition.

The survey found CAM makes up just 1.5% of U.S. healthcare expenditures. However, it accounts for 11.2% of total out-of-pocket expenditures. Of the $33.9 billion spent out of pocket on CAM, most of it was for self-care products, such as classes, products and materials. Compared with the last survey of CAM practices in the U.S., in 1997, visits to CAM practitioners have plunged 50%.

"In that survey, costs were driven primarily by the practitioner costs. In our data the expenditures are driven by the self-care costs," said Dr. Richard Nahin, lead investigator of the study. But, he added, the two surveys were conducted using different methodologies.

Interest in therapies like energy-healing and relaxation have declined, while practices that have more scientific validity and that depend on practitioners who are licensed and regulated, such as acupuncture, are more popular.

The data are available on the website for the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.


-- Shari Roan

Photo: Lucy Wojskowicz, a holistic health practitioner, gives a Swedish massage with craniosacral therapy to a client. Credit: Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times.
Chart credit: National Institutes of Health