From Chemo to Chiro … Are Your Patients Using a Complementary Care Approach?


From Chemo to Chiro … Are Your Patients Using a Complementary Care Approach?

By CareerSmart Learning Contributor, July 15, 2015, as published by Healthcare Hot Spot

Doctor giving a child a huge injection in arm

In a quest for management or even cure of a medical condition, many patients are willing to try different modalities of treatment. While most of these treatments areconventional, some arecomplementaryand some are alternative. If you’re a little confused by all of the buzzwords and terminology, you’re not alone.

What do each of these terms mean, and how are they different from one another?

Conventional medical treatment is medicine as practiced by holders of M.D. or D.O. degrees and by their allied health professionals, such as nurses and therapists. Other terms for conventional medicine include Western medicine and mainstream medicine.

Complementary medical treatment is a term that means “in addition to” and is used for a wide variety of healing practices and products utilized along with conventional medical treatment. For example, a patient receiving chemotherapy may simultaneously undergo acupuncture to help manage undesirable side effects such as nausea and vomiting.

Alternative medicine is used as a substitute for – rather than a complement to – conventional treatment. An example of this would be a cancer patient who forgoes chemotherapy and instead chooses to treat the disease with specific dietary changes.

True alternative medicine is not common. Most people who try non-mainstream approaches use them along with conventional medical treatments.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, formed within the National Institutes of Health, recognizes five main categories of complementary and alternative medicine:

  1. Mind-body medicine. Mind-body medicine includes treatments that focus on how our mental and emotional status interacts and affects the body’s ability to function. Examples include meditation and various therapies expressed through art and music.
  2. Whole medical systems. This category refers to complete systems of medical theory and practice, many of which go back thousands of years and have roots in non-Western cultures. Examples include traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda, a therapy that originated in India. Whole medical systems from the West include homeopathy and naturopathy.
  3. Manipulative and body-based practices. Relying on the physical manipulation of the body, these practices are intended to improve specific symptoms and overall health. Examples include chiropractic and osteopathy.
  4. Energy medicine. This form of alternative medicine uses energy fields to promote healing. Bio-field therapies affect energy fields that are said to encircle the human body – forms include Reiki and qi gong. Bio-electromagnetic-based therapies, such as magnet therapy, involve the manipulation of electromagnetic fields.
  5. Biologically based practices. Since the focus is on herbs, nutrition, and vitamins, dietary supplements and herbal medicine are perhaps the most common forms of biologically based complementary and alternative medicine. A growing interest in these types of therapies is leading to more research, but many of these practices have yet to be thoroughly tested.

Due to their increasing popularity, a special focus on biologically based products use is warranted. Some of the risks involved in using these products include:

  1. Some natural products may be safe when taken on their own but may not be safe if the patient has other medical problems, and they could be dangerous when they are combined with other medications. To be safe, patients should always check with their doctor before using any new natural products or supplements.
  2. Natural products can vary widely in how strong they are, and they may also contain harmful things not listed on the label. Complementary medication isn’t controlled as much as standard medicine. This means patients could become victims of fraud.

An increasing amount of research is being done to establish the safety and efficacy of alternative and complementary medicine, but compared with conventional therapies, this research is still limited. This means that there are still questions about these practices, so it is important that patients research credible organizations and consult with their regular doctor for what these treatments mean for their particular case before initiating any therapy.

No matter what the care setting, healthcare providers need to ask each patient if he or she is using any type of complementary health approaches. This not only helps to ensure coordinated and safe care but also that patients are fully informed about their health care decisions.

For more information on this topic, preview our course on Alternative Treatments or visit our Course Catalog.

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Reference – National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

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