Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

Can doctors respond to patients' increasing interest in complementary and alternative medicine?Commentary: Special study modules and complementary and alternative medicine—the Glasgow experience

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: (Published 20 January 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:154

Can doctors respond to patients' increasing interest in complementary and alternative medicine?

  1. D K Owen, homoeopathic physician (,
  2. G Lewith, honorary senior research fellowa,
  3. C R Stephenss, director of educationb
  1. a Winchester Homeopathic Practice, Winchester, Hants SO22 6RL
  2. b School of Medicine, Southampton General Hospital, Southampton SO16 6YD
  3. Glasgow University, Glasgow G12 8QQ
  1. Correspondence to: D K Owen Homoeopathic Physicians Teaching Group Oxford, Oxford OX1 2NP
  • Accepted 29 November 2000

Editorial by Berman

Patients are increasingly using complementary and alternative medicine, 1 2 and doctors are responding to this in several ways, from being enthusiastic and interested to mystified and critical.35 Complementary and alternative medicine incorporates several different approaches and methodologies,6 with techniques ranging from spiritual “healing” in cancer to nutritional interventions for premenstrual tension, acupuncture for pain relief, and manipulation for backache. In this article we encourage you to reflect on your understanding of complementary and alternative medicine in relation to your clinical practice, share some of the current initiatives in undergraduate and postgraduate familiarisation and training in this type of medicine, and explore the implications of education, support, and development.

The BMA's attitude to complementary and alternative medicine became much more positive between its first and second reports on the subject in 1986 and 1993.7 Around 39.5% of general practice partnerships in England provide access to some form of complementary therapy for their NHS patients,8 but this raises questions about how the provision of such treatment can be integrated into conventional practice. If the care is provided on a delegated or referred basis, how much does a doctor need to know to make appropriate referrals and supervise delegated treatment? If doctors are to treat patients with complementary and alternative medicine what training do they require?

Summary points

The growth in patients' use of complementary and alternative medicine has an impact on conventional medical practice

To advise about complementary and alternative medicine, doctors need to understand its potential benefits and limitations

Doctors are training in complementary and alternative medicine and report benefits both for their patients and themselves

Patients' safety and the effective integration of complementary and alternative medicine and conventional medicine is influenced by the professionalism and ethics of the training available

Doctors need …

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