Strictly speaking, complementary medicine is used along with conventional medicine, while alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medicine. This distinction has blurred in recent years as the two groups have begun working more closely together. Doctors now refer to this partnership as “integrative medicine,” as chiropractors join orthopedic surgeons, and acupuncturists help pain management specialists.
Although a few conventional doctors may still avoid alternative referrals as “voodoo medicine,” and a few alternative practitioners warn their patients who value their lives to stay away from doctors, this attitude is quickly disappearing form the American landscape.
Integrative medicine combines treatments from conventional medicine and complementary medicine for which there is some high-quality evidence of safety and effectiveness. For example, after chemotherapy, a ginger tea may be given to reduce nausea.
Children are not small adults. Their bodies can react differently from adults’ bodies to medical therapies. In general, complementary therapies have not been well studied in children. Be sure to tell your child’s health care providers about any CAM therapy you are considering or using for your child. This helps to ensure coordinated and safe care.
Talk to Your Doctor
According to the AARP, more than half of patients over 50 try some form of alternative treatment and do not tell their physician. You may be concerned your physician will disagree with your decision, but you can choose to stand your ground and simply say, “I wanted you to have this information for my charts.”
Finding a Provider
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine suggests asking numerous questions when looking for a provider. Ask about a provider’s education and training, their experience in delivering care for your specific condition, and their collaboration with other providers including physicians and licensing (some states have licensing requirements for certain CAM practitioners, such as chiropractors, naturopathic doctors, massage therapists, and acupuncturists).