S D J Med. 1997 Feb; 50(2): 65-6.
Department of Neurosciences, USD School of Medicine, Sioux Falls, USA.
The national trends and our regional experience of the utilization of complementary therapies suggest that a significant number of our patients will continue to employ remedies that are outside the mainstream of what has been defined as conventional Western medicine. The data obtained from our survey is very consistent with the national survey published in 1993. Indeed the national interest in alternative/complementary therapies seems to be growing. A recent newspaper article from Minneapolis noted that Allina, one of Minnesota's largest hospital and HMO systems, found, in a 1995 survey, that two-thirds of surveyed households had a least one member who had used some type of alternative or holistic care over the prior two year period. Certainly continued study of the safety and efficacy of alternative/complementary therapies is warranted. This work is being done on many fronts, including the Office of Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health. A most important aspect of such investigations is to improve the understanding of why patients choose these unconventional remedies. For many patients, the answer is simple. They believe these alternative treatments work. For such patients, alternative therapies may constitute a practical way to move from the sterile "high tech" realm of traditional medicine to a more intimate, "high touch" intervention offered by non-physicians. In the end, physicians' most pressing mandate is "to be of use" to patients in their struggles with illness, disability, and impending death. None of us have all the answers, and the studies alluded to in this essay suggest that a significant segment of the population yearns for interventions that have been traditionally outside the practice of most physicians and nurses. The data from our survey corroborates the high utilization rate of alternative/complementary therapies, regionally and is consistent with national data. Our challenge, as caregivers, is to appropriately respond to the notable prevalence of alternative health practices and to the complex societal factors which nurture this usage.