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Be Smart About Integrative Medicine

Integrative therapies can open up new doors for treating ailments, but make sure you know what you are truly getting.

Researching Various Therapies

Don't try a CAM therapy just because you read a glowing testimonial or because a friend or co-worker swears by it. Find out for yourself whether any scientific studies have been done on the particular therapy. That way, you can make an informed decision based on your understanding of the potential benefits and risks.

Not every CAM therapy has been studied, but many have. Here are some tips from the federal government's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) on how to get reliable information:

  • Ask your doctor if he or she knows about the therapy you're considering. For example, is it safe and effective? Will it interact with your prescription or over-the-counter medications or other medical treatments? Your doctor may be able to help you interpret scientific studies that you've found on your own. If your doctor isn't able to answer your questions, ask if he or she can refer you to someone who is knowledgeable.
  • Do an Internet search -- but pay close attention to the source of information. Sites that are operated by the government, a reputable university, or a well-regarded medical or health-related association are more reliable than sites that are sponsored by product manufacturers. Check the purpose of the site. Is it to educate the public or to sell a product or service? Also look at the origins of information. Does it come from scientific evidence with clear references, or from advice, personal stories, and opinions? To make sure that you're getting current information, check whether the site is reviewed and updated frequently.
  • For the results of scientific studies on CAM therapies, visit the database "CAM on PubMed," developed jointly by NCCAM and the National Library of Medicine.
  • If you don't have Internet access, call the NCCAM Clearinghouse toll-free at (888) 644-6226. Staff members can help you search the medical and scientific literature for information on various CAM therapies.
  • Go to your local library or medical library to see if books or scientific articles have been published about the CAM therapy. A reference librarian may be able to help you find reliable sources.

Finding a CAM Practitioner

If you go to a hospital or university medical center with an integrative medicine program, you'll find CAM practitioners on staff who have been trained in acupuncture, biofeedback, hypnosis, herbal medicine, and other therapies. Or the program may refer you to affiliated practitioners in the community.

If you're searching for a CAM practitioner, keep these tips in mind and choose carefully:

  • Before you choose a CAM practitioner, tell your doctor about the therapy you're considering so that he or she can offer any advice. Then ask if he or she can recommend a CAM practitioner or is willing to make a referral. You can also contact a hospital or medical school to see if it can recommend CAM practitioners.
  • Call a professional organization for the type of practitioner you seek to learn about the type of training required, as well as any licensing or certification requirements in your state. Ask a librarian to help you find directories that contain professional organizations. Or go online to the Directory of Health Organizations , where you can search for listings of numerous CAM organizations.
  • Regulatory agencies and licensing boards for certain types of practitioners exist in many states. Your city, county, or state health department may be able to help you find such entities so you can get information about practitioners in your area.
  • Find out if your insurance will cover the therapy -- for example, chiropractic visits. If it's covered, find a practitioner who accepts your insurance. But be aware that even with insurance, you may still need to pay a portion of the cost.
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Reviewed on April 17, 2009

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