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Alternative medicine

Many Doctors are Clueless about Alternative Medicine Research

Tuesday, April 21, 2009 by: Sherry Baker, Health Sciences Editor
Tags: alternative medicine, health news, Natural News

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(NewsTarget) It's no secret that Americans are turning to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in droves. In fact, last December the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the National Center for Health Statistics (part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) released new findings that revealed about 38 percent of adults (four in 10) and approximately 12 percent of children (about one in nine) are using some form of CAM. What's more, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has invested more than $2 billion into CAM research over the past ten years.

However, a new study just published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine indicates a large number of American health practitioners, including MDs, simply aren't aware of the serious scientific attention being given to CAM by the federal government. The report concludes only one in four practicing clinicians are aware of two major federally funded clinical trials of alternative therapies -- and many doctors don't seem to have confidence in their ability to interpret results of CAM research. This could be keeping many physicians from incorporating helpful alternative therapies into their practice.

"For evidence from clinical research to have an impact on medical practice, health care professionals must first be aware of the research. Once aware, health care professionals must be able to interpret these findings, judging both their validity and their implications. Finally, they must apply the scientific evidence to their own practices," the authors of the study wrote.

To gather information about health care professionals' awareness of CAM research, Jon C. Tilburt, M.D., M.P.H., of the NIH and Mayo Clinic and his research team surveyed 2,400 internists and rheumatologists as well as practicing acupuncturists and naturopaths about their awareness of CAM research and their attitudes toward findings in this field.

Out of the total of 1,561 clinicians (65 percent) who completed the survey, 59 percent were aware of at least one of two major clinical trials recently published on CAM therapies for osteoarthritis of the knee (one researched acupuncture and the other studied the impact of the supplement glucosamine). However, only 23 percent were aware of both trials. Acupuncturists (46 percent) and rheumatologists (49 percent) were more often aware of the acupuncture study than the naturopaths (30 percent) and only 22 percent of the general internists knew about the research. But alternative health practitioners aren't always aware of the latest in CAM research, either. When it came to the glucosamine trial, more internists (59 percent) and rheumatologists (88 percent) were aware of the study than the acupuncturists (20 percent) and naturopaths (39 percent).

A minority of clinicians in all groups said they were "very confident" in their ability to critically interpret CAM research literature (20 percent of acupuncturists, 25 percent of naturopaths, 17 percent of internists and 33 percent of rheumatologists); more described themselves as "moderately confident" (59 percent of acupuncturists, 64 percent of naturopaths, 67 percent of internists and 59 percent of rheumatologists).

Bottom line: the translation of CAM trial results into clinical practice appears to vary widely and the researchers say this is most likely based on the health practitioners' training, attitudes and experiences. "For clinical research in CAM (and conventional medicine) to achieve its potential social value, concerted efforts must be undertaken that more deliberately train clinicians in critical appraisal, biostatistics and use of evidence-based resources, as well as expanded research opportunities, dedicated training experiences and improved dissemination of research results," the authors concluded.

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About the author

Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA's "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine's "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic's "Men's Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.

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