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How to Find an Alternative Medicine Provider

Referrals are helpful, but also look into a practitioner's area of specialization


National Institutes of Health

Finding a family physician is relatively easy. Some have been part of the family for decades. 

It's a little different looking for practitioners who provide complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) such as acupuncture, chiropractic and naturopathy.

There are several resources available to help you find CAM practitioners:

  •     Your doctor or other health care provider may be able to give a referral.
  •     A nearby hospital or a medical school may have a list of local CAM practitioners or may be able to make a specific recommendation. Some regional medical centers may have CAM centers or CAM practitioners on staff.
  •     Professional organizations for CAM therapists often provide referrals to practitioners as well as information on therapies, standards of practice and training, and state licensing requirements. These organizations can be located by searching the Internet or directories in libraries.
  •     State regulatory agencies or licensing boards for health care professionals may provide information regarding practitioners in your area. Your state, county, or city health department may also refer you to such agencies or boards.If a friend recommends a CAM practitioner, or if you find a practitioner through your local Yellow Pages, looking into the resources suggested above can give you confidence that you have considered all the best possibilities.

Choosing a practitioner

As when choosing any health care provider, contact the practitioners you are considering to gather some basic information. Although you can do this over the phone, consider asking for a brief, in-person consultation (which may or may not involve a charge). Practitioners may also have a Web site or brochure. Before you make your contacts, think about what is important to you—what you need to know to make your decision.

You might ask about:

  •     Areas of specialization, experience treating patients with problems similar to your own, and his or her philosophy of care.
  •     Any scientific research studies that support the treatment's use for your condition.
  •     The number of patients the practitioner sees in a typical day and average time spent with each patient.
  •     Treatment costs, including charges per session, charges for cancelled appointments, payment options and participation in your insurance plan.
  •     Office hours, how far in advance you need to schedule an appointment, and typical waiting time in the office.
  •     Office locations—for example, accessibility to public transportation, parking, and elevators.
  •     What to expect during the first visit or assessment.
  •     Education, training, licenses and certifications. (If you have information from a professional organization, compare the practitioner's qualifications with the training and licensing standards for that profession).

After making your contacts, think about how comfortable you felt during your initial conversations with the practitioners and their staff, and review the information they provided. How do they measure up in terms of what is most important to you? Now, you are ready to decide which practitioner will most likely meet your needs.

The first visit to the practitioner

The first visit is important. Come prepared to answer questions about your health—past and present. Bring a written list of surgeries, injuries, and major illnesses, as well as the prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs, and vitamins and other supplements you take.

Also come prepared to ask questions, for example:

  •     Are there any scientific research studies that show that this therapy may be helpful?
  •     What benefits can I expect from the therapy?
  •     What are the risks associated with the therapy?
  •     Do the known benefits outweigh the risks for my disease or condition?
  •     What side effects can be expected?
  •     Will the therapy interfere with any of my daily activities?
  •     How long will I need to undergo treatment, or how many office visits will I need? How often will my progress or treatment plan be assessed?
  •     What are the costs for the recommended treatments? Will I need to buy any equipment or supplies?
  •     Could the therapy interfere with conventional treatments?
  •     Are there any conditions for which this treatment should not be used?

Make a list of questions before your visit. Bring a notepad to record the answers (some people bring a recording device). Consider asking a family member or friend to accompany you, so you can compare notes after your visit.

Evaluating the practitioner

After your first visit, ask yourself:

  •     Was the practitioner easy to talk to? Did I feel comfortable?
  •     Was the practitioner willing to answer all my questions? Was I satisfied with the answers?
  •     Was the practitioner open to considering how CAM therapy and conventional medicine might work together for my benefit?
  •     Did the practitioner get to know me and ask me about my health condition?
  •     Did the practitioner seem knowledgeable about my specific health condition?
  •     Does the recommended treatment seem reasonable to me?
  •     Was the practitioner clear about the time and costs associated with treatment?

Building a relationship with a new practitioner takes time. Nevertheless, if at any time you are not satisfied or comfortable, you should discuss your concerns with the practitioner and feel free to stop treatment or look for a different practitioner. Before deciding to stop treatment, however, ask if doing so is safe. If you do stop treatment, tell your other health care providers so they can continue to make fully informed decisions about your care.

More:
What is complementary and alternative medicine?

Resources:
National Library of Medicine's Directory of Health Organizations
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Based on the NIH National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine article “Selecting a Complementary and Alternative Medicine Practitioner.”

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