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Skeptical patients with arthritis and fibromyalgia are likely to use alternative medicine

Medical skeptics are individuals who doubt conventional medicine's ability to significantly improve their health status. Their skepticism can often lead them to seek additional care from massage therapists, church leaders, chiropractors, herbalists, and acupuncturists.

In a recent study, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill surveyed 1,759 patients with arthritis and fibromyalgia to determine the strength of their medical skepticism and their subsequent use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Of the 721 individuals who returned the survey, 106 (15 percent) used CAM providers. When church leaders were excluded, the number fell to 75 (10 percent). Of the 106, 54 percent had rheumatoid arthritis, 23 percent had osteoarthritis, and 23 percent had fibromyalgia. Most were female (78 percent) and white (86 percent) and had spent some time in college.

Researchers measured medical skepticism using the Medical Skepticism Scale. This consists of four questions to which respondents answer using a five-point Likert scale (disagree strongly to agree strongly). In this study, medical skepticism was associated with CAM provider use. In fact, a one-point increase in the skepticism scale increased the probability of using a CAM provider by 70 percent.

The authors note that providers who treat medical skeptics can better assist these patients by thoroughly communicating what conventional medicine offers as well as which alternative therapies may be useful in treating their conditions. This study was funded in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (T32 HS00032).

See "Medical skepticism and the use of complementary and alternative health care providers by patients followed by rheumatologists," by Leigh F. Callahan, Ph.D., Janet K. Freburger, P.T., Ph.D., Thelma J. Mielenz, P.T., Ph.D., O.C.S., and Elizabeth K. Wiley-Exley, M.P.H., in the June 2008 Journal of Clinical Rheumatology 14(3), pp. 143-147.

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