Alternative Medicine Goes Mainstream

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More than one in four U.S. hospitals now offer alternative and complementary therapies, such as acupuncture, homeopathy, and massage therapy, a new survey of nearly 1,400 U.S. hospitals shows.

"More and more, patients are requesting care beyond what most consider to be traditional health services," say researchers Sita Ananth of Health Forum, an affiliate of the American Hospital Association, and William Martin, PsyD, of the College of Commerce at DePaul University in Chicago, in a news release. "And hospitals are responding to the needs of the communities they serve by offering these therapies."

Complementary and alternative medicine, or CAM, includes therapies not based on traditional Western medical teachings. They may include acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy, diet and lifestyle changes, herbal medicine and massage therapy, among others.

A 2002 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey showed that more than half of Americans thought combining CAM with conventional medicine would be helpful.

The survey, conducted and published by the American Hospital Association every two years, shows the percentage of hospitals offering one or more CAM services increased from 8 percent in 1998 to 27 percent in 2005.

Contrary to popular belief, researchers found that complimentary and alternative medicine offerings were most common in the Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin) and less common on the West Coast. The least common areas to offer CAM services were in the South (Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee).

The top six complementary and alternative medicine services offered on an outpatient basis among hospitals offering CAM were massage therapy (71 percent); tai chi, yoga, or chi gong (47 percent); relaxation training (43 percent); acupuncture (39 percent); guided imagery (32 percent), and therapeutic touch (30 percent).

Top inpatient services were massage therapy (37 percent), music/art therapy (26 percent), therapeutic touch (25 percent), guided imagery (22 percent), relaxation training (20 percent), and acupuncture (11 percent).

Other findings of the survey include:

  • Most hospitals that offered CAM were in urban areas and were large or medium-sized (more than 100 beds).

  • Teaching hospitals accounted for 36 percent of hospitals responding to the survey and offering CAM services, perhaps reflecting the finding in a 2004 study that more than three-quarters of medical schools require a course in CAM.

  • Most hospitals offered their CAM services at other locations while 37 percent provided them in a hospital wellness or fitness center.

  • Most CAM services are paid for by patients as an out-of-pocket medical expense.

    SOURCES: Ananth, S. "Health Forum 2005 Complementary and Alternative Medicine Survey of Hospitals," July 19, 2006. News release, American Hospital Association.

    By Jennifer Warner. Reviewed by Louise Chang, M.D. © 2006, WebMD Inc. All rights reserved
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