Defining Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Some of the most fascinating trends regarding consumer preferences for medical care for themselves and their kids, have to do with the increasing tendency of our patients and families — that means you — to choose more natural, non-drug, so-called Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) approaches.

CAM refers to techniques such as massage, meditation, acupuncture, herbals, and energetic therapies like Reiki and Healing Touch. A recent national survey showed that 38% of adults nationwide state that they use CAM and 12% of kids report CAM use. Other studies have suggested that 50-85% of kids/teens with chronic illness Cancer, cystic fibrosis, developmental challenges) use some form of alternative medicine.

At the Integrative Medicine Program here at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota (the largest and longest-running pediatric CAM clinic in North America) we have had 10 years of experience talking to many of you — parents, kids and teens — about why you want alternatives to conventional prescription medication & invasive high-tech procedures. Our experience suggests that people seek out CAM for a few common reasons:

  • some individuals just don’t do well with conventional medical approaches (for example, kids with certain kinds of chronic pain) and are looking for more effective options
  • patients are interested in learning self-care techniques that allow them to be more active participants in their own treatment
  • people appreciate more natural, less invasive options that support the body’s natural healing capacities
  • families value a holistic approach that considers mind, body and spirit in the assessment and treatment process

A 2009 national survey of 1000 families, commissioned by Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota also showed that 2/3 of parents preferred to take their child to a children’s hospital that included both conventional and CAM services. In that survey, which included many parents of kids with serious illness, 85% said they were worried that their child might become dependent on prescription medication. Surprisingly, only 12% of parents surveyed stated that they had ever talked about the use of CAM with their child’s doctor. (see reference 3)

Recently, a study was published in a leading pediatric journal examining why parents turn to the use of complementary/alternative medicine (CAM) with their kids. The study, using data from the 2007 US National Health Interview Survey, found that more teens used CAM than younger kids, that more kids with anxiety/stress used CAM, and that kids that used CAM were also more likely to use prescription medication. Use of CAM by a parent was strongly associated with a child or teens’ use of CAM.

As an informed healthcare consumer and effective advocate for your child, you may want to come “armed” to your next doctor visit, with a few questions to ask about integrative or CAM approaches:

  • What kinds of CAM approaches might benefit my child and how can these be balanced/prioritized with necessary conventional treatments
  • What is the balance of potential risk and benefit for a particular CAM treatment and how much is known about its use with kids?
  • Will health insurance cover it and how many sessions or how long might it take to show benefit?

Studies suggest that more than 50% of pediatricians surveyed are willing to refer a pediatric patient for CAM, so attitudes are changing! If you doctor is unwilling or unable to provide you with adequate information about CAM options, respectfully ask them to refer you to other providers or clinics with more expertise in this area. See below for some good resources.

Dr. Tim
Dr. Tim Culbert is the medical director of Children’s Integrative Medicine program. Read more about him in his first post to the Kids’ Health blog.

Reference Articles:

Barnes P, Bloom B, Nahin R. Complementary and Alternative Medicine use among and adults and children. National Health Stat Report. 2008. 12(12):1-23

Birdee G, Phillips R, Davis R & Gardiner P. Factors Associated with Pediatric Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2010. Pediatrics. Volume 125(2). PP 249-256.

Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota : Integrative Care Survey. KRC Research. 2009.

Kemper K, Vohra S, Walls R; Task Force on Complementary and Alternative Medicine (provisional section on complementary holistic and integrative medicine). The use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Pediatrics. Pediatrics. 2008. 122(6). 1374-1386

Sawni A, Thomas R. Pediatricians attitudes experience and referral patterns regarding complementary/alternative medicine: a national survey. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2007. 7:18

Resources: Web

Children’s Integrative Medicine Program

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine

American Holistic Medical Association

Resources: Print: Parents and Professionals

Integrative Pediatrics, T. Culbert and K. Olness, 2009, Oxford University Press

Mental Health, Naturally, K. Kemper, 2010, American Academy of Pediatrics Publications

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