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Researchers identify characteristics and training of complementary and alternative medical providers

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapy has become very popular in the United States, especially in the Northeast and West. A new study supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS09565 and HS08194) provides unique information on the characteristics of CAM providers. Group Health researcher Daniel C. Cherkin, Ph.D., and colleagues conducted telephone interviews with more than 160 licensed acupuncturists, chiropractors, massage therapists, and naturopathic physicians from four States (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Washington, and Arizona) in 1998 and 1999.

The researchers compared data about sociodemographic characteristics, training, and practice characteristics of CAM providers with data on conventional physicians published by the American Medical Association. More women than men practiced massage therapy (85 percent) and acupuncture and naturopathy (almost 60 percent), but women represented only a minority of chiropractors (about 25 percent) and conventional medical physicians (23 percent). Except for acupuncturists, about 20 percent of whom are Asian, only 5 percent of CAM providers were not white. CAM providers were more likely than conventional physicians to practice solo (51-74 percent vs. 26 percent), and less than 10 percent practiced in conjunction with medical physicians.

Mean hours of direct patient care in a typical week totaled roughly 15 for massage, 25 for acupuncture and naturopathy, and 30 for chiropractic, compared with more than 50 for conventional physicians due to time spent outside the office (for example, in hospital and nursing home visits). The median duration of basic training was 3 years for acupuncturists, 4 years for chiropractors and naturopathic physicians, and 600 to 650 hours for massage therapists. Most doctors spend 4 years in medical school and 3 years in residency training.

For more information, see "Characteristics of licensed acupuncturists, chiropractors, massage therapists, and naturopathic physicians," by Dr. Cherkin, Richard A. Deyo, M.D., M.P.H., Karen J. Sherman, Ph.D., M.P.H., and others, in the September/October 2002 Journal of the American Board of Family Practice 15(5), pp. 378-390.

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