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Turning a blind eye to alternative medicine education

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: (Published 01 October 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f5827
  1. Donald M Marcus, professor of medicine and immunology emeritus
  1. 1Departments of Medicine and Immunology, Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Medical Center, Houston, TX, USA
  1. dmarcus{at}

Donald M Marcus investigates how medical schools deal with the teaching of CAM

Despite little evidence for their efficacy,1 2 3 and growing information about their adverse effects,4 complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies are popular. In 2007 consumers spent $24bn (£15bn; €18bn) out of pocket on self prescribed alternative treatments and products.5 The use of these therapies is driven, in large part, by the prevalence of misinformation in the media and on the internet. Academic health science centers should provide evidence based guidance to health professionals and to the public. Unfortunately, many medical and nursing schools endorse the use of CAM.

Integrative medicine programs

The mission of integrative medicine centers, which are present in more than 40 medical and nursing schools, is to introduce evidence based information regarding safe and effective alternative therapies into healthcare education. Although clinical trials before 2000 provided data supporting the efficacy of some alternative therapies, systematic reviews showed serious defects in their methodology that made them uninterpretable. More rigorous, independently funded trials of the past decade found no evidence for their efficacy beyond a placebo effect.1 2 3

A detailed review of curriculums created by 15 institutions that received educational grants from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) showed that they failed to conform to the principles of evidence …

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