Finding a Doctor Who Understands Complementary And Alternative Medicine
By Miriam Wetzel, Ph.D.
Harvard Medical School
The use of complementary and alternative therapies has skyrocketed. Magazines, TV, bookstores and the Internet are now filled with information about herbal remedies, vitamins, dietary supplements, massage, relaxation techniques and more. One result: More and more people want medical care from a doctor who understands complementary and alternative medicine.
You may seek out such a doctor for a number of reasons. For example, you may:
Whatever your goals, you will benefit most from a doctor who neither condemns complementary and alternative medicine wholesale, nor blindly advocates it.
Finding a doctor who understands complementary and alternative medicine is becoming easier. In the past, medical schools ignored complementary and alternative medicine. Today, more medical students are at least introduced to the topic. In 2000, 82 medical schools taught complementary and alternative topics, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. In addition, many practicing doctors now study common alternative therapies.
If you can, search for a doctor before you need one. A few years ago, all you could do was ask neighbors, relatives, and friends for a recommendation. Now, you can use the Internet. For example, the Web site for the American Medical Association Free Physician Select Service has information about a doctor's location, gender, medical school, year of graduation, residency training, board certification, and specialty. Local, state, and specialty medical societies also can give you information about practitioners in your area. These societies usually can be found in the telephone book, in the business section or under social and human services. Keep in mind that, if you belong to a managed-care organization such as an HM0, your selection may be limited to participating doctors. The managed-care organization should provide a list of participating doctors to guide your search.
Factors To Consider
Here are factors to consider in selecting a doctor:
Narrowing Your Choice
Once you have located a doctor, contact the staff at the doctor's office. Ask the staff about the type of practice, the doctor's hospital affiliation, and the doctor's attitude toward questions about complementary and alternative medicine. Inquire whether any alternative health practitioners are associated with the doctor's office.
Next, consider arranging an interview. Some doctors allow a 10- or 15-minute initial visit at no charge, but others don't. Instead, you may want to schedule a routine visit. During your visit, be open about how you plan to use any complementary and alternative therapies. Does the doctor's response give you the balanced advice you are seeking?
You may have to pay for a couple of appointments before you find the right doctor to help guide you through the maze of complementary and alternative therapies.