Intended for healthcare professionals

Clinical Review ABC of complementary medicine

Users and practitioners of complementary medicine

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: (Published 25 September 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:836
  1. Catherine Zollman,
  2. Andrew Vickers

    Complementary medicine seems to be becoming more popular in Britain. Media coverage, specialist publications, and numbers of complementary therapists have all increased dramatically in the past 20 years In this chapter we analyse this phenomenon and review available evidence about the use of complementary medicine.

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    Use of complementary medicine in UK surveys

    Surveys of use

    Several surveys, of varying quality, have been undertaken, but interpretation is not straightforward. Some studies targeted practitioners, whereas others surveyed patients and consumers. Different definitions of complementary medicine have been used—some include only patients consulting one of five named types of complementary practitioner, while some include up to 14 different therapies and others include complementary medicines bought over the counter. When treatments such as hypnosis are given by conventional doctors or within conventional health services, patients and surveys may not register them as “complementary.” However, it is possible to make estimates from the available data, which help to chart the development of complementary practice.

    Numbers of specialist publications for complementary medicine are growing

    Levels of use

    How many people use complementary medicine?

    The most rigorous UK survey of use of complementary medicine estimated that, in 1993, 33% of the population had used some form of complementary medicine and that over 10% had consulted a complementary practitioner in the previous year. Surveys of patients with chronic and difficult to manage diseases—such as cancer, HIV infection, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, and rheumatological conditions—give levels of use up to twice as high.

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    Use of complementary medicine worldwide

    Comparisons can be made with figures from other countries, although variations may be partly due to differences in survey methodology

    How extensively is complementary medicine used?

    Attempts have been made to estimate the number of complementary medicine consultations taking place in the United Kingdom. In 1993 there were about 12 million adult consultations in the six major complementary disciplines. Average consultation rates were 4.3 per patient. Estimates based on the …

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