Monday, February 07, 2011

Complementary, Alternative Medicine on the rise

More Americans are turning to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), including those who have trouble meeting the cost of conventional care, a study shows. “The rising cost of health care is outpacing inflation and salaries, and there’s a good possibility that that is linked to increasing CAM use,” says study researcher Dejun Su, PhD, a sociologist at the University of Texas - Pan American. The study of CAM trends is published in the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved.

CAM, which includes such practices as yoga, massage, nutrition, herbal medicine, and meditation, has been increasing in popularity for many years. In 1990, a third of all Americans had used some form of CAM. By 2002, the number of people who had tried CAM had nearly doubled. The numbers, Su and his colleague Lifeng Li report, remain on the rise. Their study compares data from the 2002 and 2007 National Health Interview Surveys, which are conducted annually by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, to track the health care status of Americans and their access to the health care system.

Overall, there was a 14% increase in the use of CAM over the five-year period. That uptick was expected. What surprised Su was the “expanding gap” in the rate of CAM use between non-Hispanic whites and African-American and Hispanic populations. Whites were more than twice as likely to see a CAM provider as African-Americans or Hispanics. CAM use by Hispanics increased by only 1% over the five-year period. Asians used CAM practices only slightly less than whites. Among the most popular forms of CAM for all groups were massage and chiropractic care. More than a third of those who said they used CAM practices in 2007 also reported that they had an unmet medical need or had delayed getting medical care. Su speculates that this is due to the greater affordability of CAM, including provider-based CAM practices, compared to conventional medicine.

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