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Patients Often Don’t Reveal Complementary, Alternative Therapy Usage

MINNEAPOLIS – Are your patients being honest with you about their use of alternative and complementary medications?

The answer probably is “yes and no.”

While customers primarily purchasing herbs or supplements from a pharmacy or elsewhere are a bit more likely to tell their physicians than those practicing yoga or meditation, many patients don’t disclose use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), according to a new research letter.

The report, published online recently by JAMA Internal Medicine, notes that, although they fear disapproval, patients say they actually want their primary care physicians (PCPs) to inquire about CAM. Yet, that is a topic that PCPs rarely broach.

“These communication barriers may prevent CAM from becoming fully integrated into patients’ treatment and self-care routines, especially if patients do not disclose their use of CAM to their primary care physicians,” study authors write.

According to the researchers from the University of Minnesota, of the 34 525 adults who completed the CAM supplement to the 2012 National Center for Health Statistics, 29.6% reported using CAM at least once in the past year, and 66.3% had a primary care physician.

Of 7,493 respondents who fit both criteria, however, 42.3% did not disclose the use of their most frequent CAM modality. Nondisclosure was least common among those using herbs and/or supplements, 24.9%, and acupuncture, 35.5%, according to the report.

Included in the study’s definition of CAM was a range of modalities including herbs and/or supplements; chiropractic and/or osteopathic manipulation; massage; yoga, tai chi or min qi gong; mantra meditation or mindfulness; special diets; acupuncture and homeopathy.

Study authors urge physicians to "consider more actively inquiring about patients' use of CAM, especially for modalities likely to be medically relevant."