Research: ELDER and colleagues, Dep

Listed in Issue 22


ELDER and colleagues, Department of Family Medicine, Oregon Health Sciences University, Portland USA write that in recent years, the use of alternative medicine has become more acknowledged in the United States . Many different therapeutic practices are encompassed by the terms alternative, unorthodox and complementary medicine and their use by the population is now being defined. Also, the number of established family practice patients using alternative medicine is not known.



The authors conducted a survey of patients from 4 family practices from a large community in the western United States regarding their use of alternative medicine. Participants attended a focus group to discuss more fully their use of alternative medicine.


Questionnaires were completed by 113 family practice patients, of whom fifty percent (57/113) had or were using some form of alternative medicine. However, only 53% (30/57) had told their family physician about using alternative medicine. There were no significant attributions to gender, educational level, age, race or clinic attended. The main reason for using alternative medicine was the belief that it would work. Many patients who worked in combination with a family physician mentioned acceptance and control, but those patients who did not work with their physician mentioned traditional medicine's limitations and narrow-mindedness.


Family physicians need to be aware that many of their patients may be using alternative health care. Open and nonjudgmental questioning of patients may help to increase physician knowledge of this use, which may lead to improved patient care and the working together of physicians and patients.


Elder NC et al. Use of alternative health care by family practice patients. Arch Fam Med 6(2): 181-4. Mar-Apr 1997.

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