Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) refers to any therapy that is not a part of standard Western medicine. Despite increasing interest from patients – up to a third of Americans use some form of CAM – western medicine has historically vilified these practices as not evidenced based and without much merit. Despite this, many CAM practices are beneficial to patients and can safely be integrated into your medical practice.
Read on to see why your practice should start incorporating CAM.
Patients want CAM- and they will seek it out
Like it or not, many of our patients are frustrated with the healthcare system. Increasing insurance costs and long wait times have left some patients skipping doctor visits and striking out on their own path towards a healthy life. Additionally, patients want to engage in personalized care that aligns with their goals, leading many to seek out CAM practices. As doctors, we owe it to our patients to be knowledgeable about these practices and ensure that they are receiving the best care. Rather than leaving patients to rely on false advertising or hoaxes, doctors can educate them on incorporating healthy practices into their daily routine and guide them to reputable therapies and practitioners. For example, provide patients with a cheat sheet specific to a particular medical condition to start the conversation on incorporating CAM practices and help focus their questions.
There is support for many CAM practices
While there are predatory practitioners out there – as is the case in any profession – many CAM practices have research proving their benefits. The NCCIH has a list of research queries that evaluate different CAM practices, providing a source of reputable information for your patients. These studies show the benefit of CAM practices like yoga, acupuncture, mindfulness, deep breathing and a vegetarian lifestyle for multiple health concerns. If several of your patients come to you with questions about a specific CAM practice and its use in a disease process you specialize in, it is essential that you become aware of the benefits and drawbacks of its use. In my practice, I saw a patient with aggressive prostate cancer who wanted to use high dose Vitamin C therapy as an alternative to standard medical care. While others dismissed him, knowledge about the CAM practice and an unbiased approach allowed him to pursue the standard of care while using Vitamin C as only a part of his integrative approach. Don’t alienate patients who are genuinely asking for guidance!
CAM makes your practice more marketable, while engaging your patients
Providing information to patients about CAM will endear them to your practice and keep them returning to you for services they can’t get from CAM. More medical practices, including top medical schools, are partnering with alternative providers and integrating care to the tune of increasing referrals, patients and business. While this does not mean you need to hire an acupuncturist on staff or develop a proprietary vitamin blend, incorporating guidance on wellness practices and empowering your patients to take an active role in their health will go a long way. Start by discussing CAM options that may resonate with your patients via newsletters, email lists or even in your waiting room. Highlighting the benefits of a healthy diet and lifestyle choices like stress reduction (in easy to digest tidbits) is a great place to start. For example, send patients simple wellness tips relevant to your practice, like “5 stress busters to help you beat the cold” or “yoga poses to help with urinary incontinence” that integrate CAM into your medical practice. Not only will you engage your patients, and even preemptively answer some questions, it will set you apart as an expert in healthy living in your area of expertise.
CAM can improve your referral base
There are likely several CAM practices that are already well established in your community and well known to your patients. Being aware of these practices and even referring their services to appropriate patients may inspire reciprocity when they need help caring for clients that are not responding to their therapies. I partnered with an integrative medicine physician who offered acupuncture for the treatment of lower urinary tract symptoms. Over time, we built a mutually beneficial referral base in which I sent her patients who wanted to try alternative therapies before trying prescription medications or surgery, and she sent me patients who had failed acupuncture therapy and were motivated to try standard Western medicine to treat their bothersome urinary symptoms. Another option is to partner with stand-alone CAM establishments at local community fairs as a way of showing up in your community. By partnering with these groups and showing your commitment to patients’ wellness, you will bring positive publicity to your medical practice and open your practice to a whole new group of patients.
Incorporating CAM into your medical practice will let patients know that you are open to all evidence-based methods to achieving wellness, increasing their confidence – and their return visits. Take a second look at all that CAM therapies have to offer; it could inspire your patients- and your practice.