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Complementary and Alternative Medicine

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Many medical school faculty members have positive attitudes towards use of alternative medical practices

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies were used by one-third of the U.S. population in 1990, growing to 42 percent in 1997. Indeed, many doctors use these therapies themselves, according to a study supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS07400). A survey of 143 faculty members at one medical school revealed that the majority had used CAM therapies, considered several of them to be legitimate medical practices, and would like more training in some of them.

Researchers at the Program for Healthcare Effectiveness Research, Morehouse School of Medicine, found that of the 30 CAM therapies listed in the survey, five were considered legitimate medical practices by more than 70 percent of the faculty members. These were nutrition and diet, counseling or psychotherapy, fitness and exercise, emotional support groups, and biofeedback. An additional six therapies (acupuncture, herbal medicine, massage therapy, chiropractic, hypnotherapy, and meditation) were considered a legitimate medical practice by more than 50 percent of the faculty members.

On the other hand, less than 25 percent of faculty members gave this classification to nine therapies (colon therapy, naturopathic medicine, macrobiotic diet, therapeutic touch, bioelectromagnetics, tai chi, Ayurvedic medicine, aromatherapy, and Reiki). Eighty-five percent of faculty members reported some training in alternative medical therapies, and 62 percent were interested in additional training, particularly in nutrition and diet, herbal medicine, and biofeedback. In addition, 83 percent of faculty members reported personal experience with alternative therapies, and most rated them as effective. Finally, 85 percent of those surveyed said they had a positive attitude toward alternative medicine, which is gaining increased acceptance for insurance coverage.

More details are in "Complementary and alternative medical practices: Training, experience, and attitudes of a primary care medical school faculty," by Stephen M. Levine, M.A., Margaret L. Weber-Levine, Ph.D., and Robert M. Mayberry, M.P.H., Ph.D., in the July 2003 Journal of the American Board of Family Practice 16(4), pp. 318-326.

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