Critical Path Network: IOM to study alternative, complementary medicine

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and 16 Federal cosponsors have unveiled plans for an Institute of Medicine (IOM) study of the scientific and policy implications of the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) by the American public. The $1 million, nearly two-year study will be conducted by the Washington, DC-based IOM, a component of the National Academies.

The National Academies is a private, nonprofit, nongovernmental institution created by a congressional charter to be an advisory body for the nation on scientific and technological matters. The IOM draws upon volunteer panels of experts to examine policy matters regarding the public’s health.

NCCAM, the primary sponsor of the study, is the federal government’s lead agency for scientific research on CAM. The IOM will assemble a panel of approximately 16 experts from a broad range of CAM and conventional disciplines, such as behavioral medicine, internal medicine, nursing, epidemiology, pharmacology, health care research and administration, and education. During the study, the IOM panel will assess research findings, hold workshops, and invite speakers to address the panel, among other activities, to:

• Provide a comprehensive overview of the use of CAM therapies by the American public.

• Identify significant scientific and policy issues related to CAM research, regulation, integration, training, and certification.

• Develop a conceptual framework to help guide decision making on these issues and questions.

The value of the study came from discussions among members of the Trans-Agency CAM Coordinating Committee, chaired by Stephen E. Straus, MD, NCCAM director. "Americans use CAM therapies in record numbers," said Straus, when announcing the study. "The IOM’s report will give us a clearer understanding of the scope of CAM use by Americans, as well as CAM’s public health impact, and scientific and policy issues that will better inform our research decisions."

The IOM study, led by Lyla M. Hernandez, MPH, senior program officer for the Board on Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, will not conduct new surveys of the public regarding CAM use. Rather, the IOM panel will gather and analyze existing data.