Perceptions and attitudes of rehabilitation medicine physicians on complementary and alternative medicine in Australia

J C S Mak, L Y H Mak, Q Shen, S Faux
Internal Medicine Journal 2009, 39 (3): 164-9

BACKGROUND: The growing demand for complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is undeniable. We report a first study about the attitudes and behaviour of Australian rehabilitation physicians to CAM.

METHODS: A prospective cross-sectional survey was undertaken to document the prevalence of, knowledge about and referrals to CAM therapies and their perceived effectiveness, by a sample of Australian rehabilitation physicians.

RESULTS: Thirty-six out of 94 actively practising rehabilitation physicians from the Australasian Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, replied to the survey, a response rate of 38%, and 85% reported familiarity with CAM, the most familiar therapies being acupuncture (80%), yoga (74%) and Tai-Chi (72%). CAM referral was reported in 84%, 38% personally used CAM, 94% of patients enquired about CAM therapies, 32% of respondents routinely enquired about CAM use. Age, sex and year of Fellowship were not associated with familiarity, personal use or frequency of patient enquiry about CAM. Those who reported to be very familiar with CAM were more likely to routinely enquire about CAM use (P = 0.028) and be more confident in prescribing certain CAM therapies (P < 0.05).

CONCLUSION: Australian rehabilitation physicians report similar CAM referral rates to Canadian physiatrists and Australian general practitioners. The most commonly prescribed therapies were acupuncture, yoga and Tai-Chi. Almost all patients use CAM therapies, but only a minority of rehabilitation physicians enquires about CAM use on a regular basis. The latter may avoid potentially harmful drug interactions, as well as improve the quality of the physician-patient relationship.

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