PubMed Has Potential to Help CAM Practitioners Engage with, Understand Research

Many health professionals use PubMed, the largest bibliographic index in the life sciences, to locate, comprehend, evaluate, and use medical research. In a recent study, researchers sought to establish the potential contributions made by a range of PubMed tools and services for use by complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practitioners. The results were published in the June issue of the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

For the study, the researchers took 10 chiropractors, seven registered massage therapists, and a homeopath (n = 18)—11 with prior research training and seven without—through a two-hour introductory session with PubMed. The 10 PubMed tools and services considered in this study were divided into three functions: 1) information retrieval (Boolean Search, Limits, Related Articles, Author Links, MeSH); 2) information access (Publisher Link, LinkOut, Bookshelf ); and 3) information management (History, Send To, Email Alert). Participants were introduced to between six and 10 of these tools and services. The participants were asked to provide feedback on the value of each tool or service in terms of their information needs, which was ranked as positive, positive with emphasis, negative, or indifferent, the researchers say.

The participants in this study expressed an interest in the three types of PubMed tools and services (information retrieval, access, and management). Less well-regarded tools included MeSH Database and Bookshelf. The tools and services led the participants to reflect on their understanding as well as their critical reading and use of the research, the researchers say.

The participants all wanted greater access to complete articles, beyond the approximately 15% that are currently open access. They felt that the abstracts provided by PubMed were necessary in selecting literature to read but were entirely inadequate for both evaluating and learning from the research. Because of this, the participants were frustrated about the restrictions and fees required to access full-text articles.

Overall, the study found strong indications of PubMed's potential value in the professional development of these CAM practitioners in terms of engaging with and understanding research. PubMed provides support for the various initiatives intended to increase access, including a recommendation that the National Library of Medicine tap into the published research that is being archived by authors in institutional archives and through other web sites, the researchers say.

Survey Shows Health Professionals Have Limited Knowledge of CAM

A recent survey of health professionals in Canada shows that they have limited knowledge of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and that they rarely ask patients about CAM use.

Researchers surveyed nurses, physicians, and allied health professionals at a Canadian tertiary care, pediatric/women's care regional center that serves a population of 2.5 million. The researchers examined personal attitudes and professional practice in addressing CAM use by patients. They also examined the availability of CAM-related information to health professionals.

The findings suggest that health professionals: 1) are supportive of the use of selected CAM therapies by patients; 2) have almost no personal experience of CAM; 3) have limited knowledge about CAM and acquire that information mainly from the Internet, friends, or family rather than professional journals; 4) are uncomfortable discussing CAM with patients, and; 5) rarely or never ask patients about CAM use.

The researchers conclude that improved access to existing policies and scientific publications, and specific continuing professional development opportunities focused on speaking openly and non-judgmentally with patients would allow health professionals to more accurately guide patients in the prevalent use of CAM. For more information on this study, see the August 2007 issue of Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. This study was also published on-line in April.