Providing Complementary and Alternative Medicine in primary care: the primary care workers' perspective

R A van Haselen, U Reiber, I Nickel, A Jakob, P A G Fisher
Complementary Therapies in Medicine 2004, 12 (1): 6-16

BACKGROUND: The use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) in primary care is growing, but still not widespread. Little is known about how CAM can/should be integrated into mainstream care.

OBJECTIVES: To assess primary care health professionals' perceptions of need and of some ways to integrate CAM in primary care.

METHOD: Questionnaire survey of primary health care workers in Northwest London. General Practitioners (GPs) were targeted in a postal survey, other members of the primary care team, such as district and practice nurses, were targeted via colleagues. The questionnaire assessed health care professionals' perspective on complementary medicine, referrals, ways to integrate complementary medicine into primary care and interest in research on CAM.

RESULTS: Responses were obtained from 149 GPs (40% response rate after one reminder) and 24 nurses and 32 other primary care team members. One hundred and seventy-one (83%) respondents had previously referred (or influenced referral) for CAM treatments, the main reasons cited were: patients request (68%), conventional treatments failed (58%) and evidence (36%) (more than one reason could be given). Acupuncture and homoeopathy were the therapies for which patients were most frequently referred, followed by manual therapies. There was a significant interest in more training/information on CAM (66%). Only 12 respondents (6%) were against any integration of CAM in mainstream primary care. Most respondents felt that CAM therapies should be provided by doctors (66%) or other health professionals trained in CAM (82%). Twenty-six percent of respondents agreed with provision of CAM by non-state-registered practitioners. It was felt that the integration of CAM could lead to cost savings (70%), particularly in conditions involving pain, but also cost increases (55%) particularly in 'poorly defined conditions'. Fifty-six percent of respondents would consider participating in studies investigating CAM. The greatest interest was in acupuncture (41% of those who expressed an interest in research), homoeopathy (30%) and therapeutic massage/aromatherapy (26%).

CONCLUSIONS: There is considerable interest in CAM among primary care professionals, and many are already referring or suggesting referral. Such referrals are driven mainly by patient demand and by dissatisfaction with the results of conventional medicine. Most of our respondents were in favour of integrating at least some types of CAM in mainstream primary care. There is an urgent need to further educate/inform primary care health professionals about CAM.


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