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How to Talk to Your Doctor About Alternative and Complementary Medicine

It's Time for Honesty and Sharing Information

By

Updated February 19, 2014

doctor patient partnership

Talk with your doctor about alternative therapies

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Some doctors have an "integrative" approach to care and understand both Eastern, holistic medicine and the allopathic approach to Western Medicine, too.

Getty Images - Ken Churnus

With alternative and complementary medicine, also called CAM or Eastern medicine, becoming more popular, those of us in the Western hemisphere find ourselves wanting to integrate it more and more with the conventional care our doctors are providing.

Some medical professionals have begun to integrate the two approaches to medicine. They make it known that they run an integrative practice, meaning they choose the best from both conventional and CAM approaches to medicine. They may be mainstream MDs or NPs, or they may be naturopathic doctors.

Other doctors and providers want nothing to do with complementary or alternative medicine. They don't understand it, and they don't take the time to learn about it. They are often skeptical of its possibilities and believe evidence does not exist to prove that CAM therapies are useful to their patients.

But this frustrates many patients who would like to at least discuss alternative approaches with their doctors. With or without the discussion, many of those frustrated patients try those therapies anyway. They just don’t tell their doctors.

Unfortunately, this is an excellent example of a communications disconnect between doctors and patients. Wise patients know honesty is important, and this scenario needs to change.

If you have interest in exploring the possibilities of alternative or complementary medicine, then you have a decision to make:

If your doctor is one of those who wants nothing to do with CAM, and you are adamant about trying an alternative therapy, then you’ll need to decide whether it’s time to find a new, integrative doctor.

But if you have a good relationship with your current doctor, you may want to broach the subject to see if he would be willing to learn more. Here’s a way to accomplish that:

  1. You will need to introduce the concept. Your doctor won’t have the time or inclination to learn on his own. During an appointment, ask if he would be willing to explore possibilities with you.
     
  2. If yes, then learn everything you can about alternative or complementary therapies appropriate to your medical problem. Most CAM books and websites focused on selling alternative remedies or supplements are not credible and some may even be criminal. Make sure you understand how to find credible and reliable Internet information. Then start with the government’s CAM website.
     
  3. The reason many doctors don’t recommend CAM to their patients is because evidence is lacking to prove their success. So research to find CAM therapies that are evidence-based. Without that evidence, your doctor probably won’t be supportive.
     
  4. Once you have found a therapy that you believe will help you, and have reviewed the evidence to support it, record your source or copy the information to take to your next appointment. During your appointment, discuss your findings with your doctor. Don’t hand your materials over to your him unless he asks for them.
     
  5. Together the two of you can determine next steps.

By using this approach, you will have kept your partnership with your doctor intact, and created a win-win situation where both of you have learned something new about a possibility for improving your health.

Before you make alternative or complementary medicine choices, be sure to understand the following:

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