Alternative medicine use grows

January 1, 1999

Pharmaceutical Representative

Americans paid more visits to alternative therapy practitioners than they did to primary care physicians in 1997.

Americans paid more visits to alternative therapy practitioners than they did to primary care physicians in 1997, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study, which appeared in the Nov. 11, 1998 issue, was a follow-up to a similar survey conducted in 1991. Researchers asked 2,055 adults via telephone whether they had used an alternative medicine or therapy within the last year.

According to participants' responses, researchers concluded that Americans paid approximately 628.8 million visits to alternative therapy practitioners in 1997. That's roughly 243 million more visits than were paid to primary care physicians, and approximately 47% more visits than were reported in 1990.

Researchers found that "use of at least one of 16 alternative therapies during the previous year increased from 33.8% to 42.1% in 1997." The 16 therapies included in the survey were herbal medicine, massage, chiropractic, relaxation techniques, megavitamin use, self-help groups, "lifestyle diet" use, energy healing, homeopathy, hypnosis, biofeedback, imagery, spiritual healing, acupuncture, commercial diet use and folk remedies.

Of these, the most commonly used therapies included herbal medicine, massage, megavitamins, self-help groups, folk remedies, energy healing and homeopathy. Therapies were used most often for chronic conditions such as back problems, anxiety, depression and headache.

Researchers also found that an estimated 15 million adults in 1997 took prescription medications concurrently with herbal remedies and high-dose vitamins. "Among the 44% of adults who said they regularly take prescription medicines, nearly one in five reported the concurrent use of at least one herbal product, a high-dose vitamin or both," according to the study.

Disturbingly, however, there was no significant increase in the rate of disclosure about alternative therapy use to physicians.

Patients who visited alternative therapy practitioners saw physicians, but did not share information about their alternative therapy with their doctors. The researchers noted: "As in 1990, 96% of 1997 respondents who saw a practitioner of alternative therapy for a principal condition also saw a medical doctor during the prior 12 months, and only a minority of alternative therapies used were discussed with a medical doctor." In comparison, 39.8% of patients told their physicians they were using alternative therapies in 1990. That disclosure rate fell to 38.5% in 1997. PR