CAM > FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT CAM

Frequently Asked Questions about CAM

Q. What is complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)?

A. CAM emphasizes healing and disease prevention by treating the mind, body and spirit. Many CAM therapies are used in conjunction with conventional treatments to prevent illness, reduce stress, prevent or reduce side effects and symptoms, or control or cure disease. Some commonly used methods of CAM include acupuncture, chiropractic, vitamins, herbs, massage therapy and yoga. Although CAM is becoming more popular, many of the techniques and procedures used in CAM are still, for the most part, unfamiliar to the majority of the public.

Q. What is the difference between complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and conventional medicine?

A. There are several fundamental differences between CAM and conventional medicine. Unlike conventional medicine, CAM is built on the philosophy that the body has an innate ability to heal itself and should be allowed to do so. CAM practitioners often search for emotional, physiological and psychological conditions that could be affecting a person's health.

Q. Who are the primary users of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)?

A. Though CAM is used by many different individuals, Dr. David Eisenberg et al. reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1998 that Baby Boomers are leading the way in CAM utilization. Individuals who are between the ages of 35 and 49, with incomes of $70,000 or more, and who have at least a college education, fit the typical profile of a CAM user.

Q. Is complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) safe?

A. Just like traditional medicine, CAM must be administered correctly and properly monitored in order to be effective and safe. Members should discuss their CAM therapies with their primary care physicians to be sure that all forms of treatment are complementary to one another and don't interfere with any conventional treatments that the Member may be receiving.

Q. Does complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) really work?

A. Current research shows that non-conventional methods do achieve results - alone, or in combination with conventional medicine. Increasingly, therapies once considered alternative are becoming more widely accepted and used, such as chiropractic care. For more information on current research, visit www.nccam.nih.gov.

Q. There are so many different types of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) providers. How do I know if I am selecting the correct one for my needs?

A. First, it is important that you visit your primary care physician (PCP) for a diagnosis of your condition. Talk with your PCP about all the different options that you have. Also, ask your PCP whether he or she will help you coordinate your CAM care with your conventional medical care. After you have discussed your condition and options with your PCP, you can begin looking for a CAM provider. Before deciding on a specialist, interview a few different candidates. During the interviews, ask each candidate about their credentials and any certifications they hold. Remember to discuss any concerns and questions you have about CAM with the provider you choose.

Q. Can complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) cause side effects?

A. Yes. CAM approaches can cause side effects in some users. The severity and the types of side effects depend on the patient's particular medical history and what types of treatments he or she is receiving. Side effects can range from muscle soreness to an adverse reaction to an herb or supplement. All CAM care should be coordinated between the Member's primary care physician and his or her CAM specialist to avoid side effects.

Q. Can complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) interfere with conventional treatments?

A. Yes. CAM can interfere with conventional treatments if the two are not coordinated properly. CAM is complementary to conventional medicine and should be used in conjunction with it to help produce optimal results.

Q. Should I let my primary care physician (PCP) know that I am seeing a complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) specialist?

A. Yes. You should let your PCP know what types of treatments you are receiving from your CAM specialist. Sometimes, conventional and complementary medicine can work in opposition to one another.

Q. How should I go about discussing my interest in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) with my primary care physician (PCP)?

A. There are some very simple steps that you can take to make communicating with your PCP as painless as possible.

  1. Tell your PCP which herbs you are taking and the non-medical therapies you are receiving, such as massage or acupuncture.
  2. Listen to your doctor's concerns about CAM. Something in your medical history may make CAM treatments risky. If your doctor refuses to assist you in your CAM treatment, you may choose to find another PCP.
  3. Ask your physician if he or she has any questions for your CAM provider.
  4. Let your physician know if your CAM provider is advising you to do something that directly conflicts with your physician's medical recommendation.
  5. You can also click here for suggestions on talking to your doctor about alternative medicine.
Q. What should I look for when choosing a complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) provider?

A. When looking for a CAM provider, a personal reference is usually a good place to start. It is always best to receive a referral from someone with your same condition. After you have received a referral, interview the referred CAM provider. Check to make sure he or she is certified and has extensive credentials.

Q. Does the National Institute of Health, or any other government agency, regulate complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)?

A. No. In 1998, the Congress established the NCCAM at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to stimulate, develop, and support research on CAM for the benefit of the public. The NCCAM is an advocate for quality science, rigorous and relevant research, and open and objective inquiry into which CAM practices work, which do not, and why. Its overriding mission is to give the American public reliable information about the safety and effectiveness of CAM practices. Visit www.nccam.nih.gov to learn more.




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