National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)

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Complementary and Alternative Medicine: What People Aged 50 and Older Discuss With Their Health Care Providers

Introduction

Do Americans aged 50 and older discuss the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) with their health care providers? What do they talk about—or why don't they? To help answer these questions, in October 2010 AARP and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) at the National Institutes of Health partnered on a telephone survey. The survey builds on a similar study conducted in 2006.

Use of CAM is widespread. The 2007 National Health Interview Survey, a nationwide Government survey, found that 38 percent of U.S. adults reported using CAM in the previous 12 months, with the highest rates among people aged 50–59 (44 percent)1. The NHIS data also revealed that approximately 42 percent of adults who used CAM in the past 12 months disclosed their use of CAM to a physician (M.D.) or osteopathic physician (D.O.)2. Because many adults also use over-the-counter medications, prescription drugs, or other conventional medical approaches to manage their health, communication between patients and health care providers about CAM and conventional therapies is vital to ensuring safe, integrated use of all health care approaches.

CAM is defined as a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not generally considered part of conventional medicine. CAM includes such products and practices as herbal or dietary supplements, meditation, chiropractic care, and acupuncture.

A health care provider talks with a patient

1 Barnes PM, Bloom B, Nahin R. Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use Among Adults and Children: United States, 2007. CDC National Health Statistics Reports #12. 2008.

2 Calculated from 2007 National Health Interview Survey Data.

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