Policy implications of complementary and alternative medicine use in Australia: data from the National Health Survey

Jean Spinks, Bruce Hollingsworth
Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine: Research on Paradigm, Practice, and Policy 2012, 18 (4): 371-8

OBJECTIVES: The objective of this study was to investigate the drivers of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) use in the general population in Australia and to identify key policy implications.

DATA AND METHODS: The National Health Survey 2007/2008, a representative survey of the Australian population, provides information on CAM use (practitioners and products) in the last 12 months. All adult respondents (N=15,779) aged 18 years or older are included in this study. Logistic regression is employed to determine the effect of socio-economic, condition-specific, health behavior variables, and private health insurance status on CAM use.

RESULTS: In addition to socio-economic variables known to affect CAM use, individuals who have a chronic condition, particularly a mental health condition, are more likely to use CAM. There does not appear to be a correlation between CAM use and more frequent General Practitioner use; however, ancillary private health insurance is correlated with a greater likelihood of CAM use, as expected.

CONCLUSIONS: The Australian government does not currently intervene in the CAM market in a systematic way. CAM is clearly considered to be a legitimate and important component of health care for many Australians, despite the limited availability of clinical evidence for its efficacy and safety. Policy interventions may include the regulation of CAM products, practitioners, and information as well as providing subsidies for cost-effective modalities.

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