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Navigating complimentary and alternative medicine

Friday, October 14 2011 11:30 PM

Are you curious about the potential benefits of adding aromatherapy, acupuncture or dietary supplements to your healthcare regimen? According to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, approximately 38 percent of American adults use some type of complimentary and alternative medicine (CAM). CAM is a group of diverse medical and healthcare systems, practices and products that are generally not part of conventional medical practices, as defined by the National Institutes of Health. Conventional medical practices typically treat symptoms and diseases using drugs, radiation or surgery.

The National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) is the federal government’s lead agency for the research of CAM. It seeks to determine which practices and products are effective and can be safely integrated with conventional medical practices. NCCAM is an excellent resource for learning about the different types of CAM and provides notice and regulation information associated with them.

Many types of CAM practices fit into more then one category. The following is a list of CAM categories:

  • Mind/body practices focus on thoughts and behaviors that promote health. These include prayer, yoga, meditation and acupuncture.
  • Biological/natural products include vitamin and herbal supplements as well as aromatherapy. Fish oil and probiotics added to yogurt are currently the most highly consumed supplements in the United States.
  • Manipulative body practices focus on structures and systems of the body such as bones, joints, the circulatory system and the lymphatic system. The most common practice in this category is massage therapy.
  • Energy therapies involve the manipulation of energy fields associated with the human body. Some energy fields are described as veritable, or measurable energy, such as the energy found in the heart and brain. Magnetic and light therapies are examples of therapies involving veritable energy. Putative energy therapies, such as reiki and Healing Touch, focus on energies that are yet to be quantifiably measured. Acupuncture is an example of a CAM that can be classified in both the mind/body and energy therapy categories.
  • Whole medical systems are complete medical systems outside of conventional medicine. These include traditional Chinese medicine, ayurvedic (originating in India), homeopathy and naturopathy.


Boundaries between conventional medical treatments and CAM have changed over time. For example, both chiropractic and osteopathic medicine have changed in their standings as legitimate forms of medicine and are now covered by many insurance providers.

You should be aware that CAM products, services and practices may interfere with your current medical care. There can be risks with CAM therapies, just as there are with conventional medical care. To minimize the risks, you should always talk with your healthcare provider before making changes to your healthcare.  

There is no standardized, national system for credentialing CAM practitioners. For example, not all states require a license to practice massage therapy. When choosing a CAM practitioner, research his or her training and experience. Seek referrals, and educate yourself using reputable sources such as NCCAM.

By Margaret Hemauer, ACC, MA, NHA
Quality/Performance Improvement Consultant
Source: www.good-sam.com

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