Talk About Complimentary and Alternative Medicine for Chronic Pain with Your Doctor

Karen Lee Richards Health Guide
  • What is CAM, you ask?  CAM stands for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.  The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health, has launched “Time to Talk” – an educational campaign to encourage patients and their health care providers to openly discuss the use of complementary and alternative medicine. 

    The NCCAM defines CAM as a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine.  Some examples of CAM would include: herbal supplements, naturopathy, acupuncture, massage therapy and meditation.  Although most of us are guilty of using the terms complementary and alternative interchangeably, there is an important difference.

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    • Complementary medicine is used together with conventional medicine.
    • Alternative medicine is used instead of conventional medicine. 

    A national consumer telephone survey, conducted by NCCAM and AARP, was recently administered to a nationally representative group of 1,559 people age 50 or older. The survey revealed that almost two-thirds of people age 50 or older are using some form of CAM, yet less than one-third of them talk about it with their health care providers.  According to the survey, the most common reasons cited by patients as to why this doctor-patient dialogue about CAM does not occur, were:

    • The physician never asked.
    • They did not know they should discuss CAM.
    • There was not enough time during the office visit.

    Interestingly, more than one-half of respondents who had talked about CAM with their physician said they (not their physician) initiated the CAM discussion.

    The purpose of the Time to Talk campaign is to encourage both patients and health care providers to engage in open dialogue about CAM therapies.  NCCAM is promoting the very thing I have been saying (or should I say preaching?) for years:

    • As patients, we have to educate ourselves and take charge of our health care.
    • Decisions about medical care should be made by the patient and the health care provider together

    The only way a good decision can be made is when both doctor and patient are able to have an open and honest discussion with one another. 

    For more information on the Time to Talk campaign and tips for discussing CAM with your health care provider, visit NCCAM’s Time to Talk Web site.  There you will find lots of downloadable information plus a number of resources for learning more about CAM therapies and research.

    Let’s talk about CAM!


    Note to support group leaders:  This would be an excellent topic for one of your meetings.

Published On: June 09, 2008