Americans are Seeking Alternatives in Health Care

December 10, 2018 Joe Brady

Having trouble getting in to see a real doctor lately? Join the club. In a recent poll conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, most people reported going to urgent care because they believe it is more convenient and takes less time than going to their regular doctor.
Many Americans are seeking alternatives in healthcare simply because seeing the doctor is getting harder and harder. One in 5 said that at least once in the past two years, they were unable to see their regular doctor when they needed medical care, mostly because the doctor didn’t have any available appointments. Even if you can get an appointment you will most likely see a physicians assistant or nurse rather than a real Doctor. and with higher and higher deductibles this is soon destined to affect us all.

As wonderful as medical technology can be if you do not have access to that technology, it cannot help you. Since help from the government is politically unpopular, lack of access to health care is forcing people to seek alternatives to expensive medical technology.

Alternative or Integrative Medicine

This alternative (or more accurately called complementary or integrative) medicine is comprised of a wide range of preventative and therapeutic techniques. These include low-cost therapies from other cultures, folk remedies from the past and many other therapeutic techniques that are not traditionally taught at orthodox medical schools.

Half of Baby Boomers Use Alternatives

As a response to this and other factors, a great many people resort to using treatment techniques (such as acupuncture) as a compliment, not an alternative, to conventional medicine. One-half of aging baby boomers (50-70yrs) currently use some form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the Center for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics, in 2007, adults in the United States spent $33.9 billion out-of-pocket on visits to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practitioners and purchases of CAM products, classes, and materials for self-care. Nearly one-third of this out-of-pocket spending was to pay for CAM practitioner costs (see figure below.) Further, according to this government survey, the number of visits to acupuncturists rose 32% between 2002 and 2007. Also, nearly 12% of the out-of-pocket money was specifically spent on yoga, Taichi and Qigong for self-care.

National Health Statistics Reports (NHSR), (Number 18, July 30, 2009) as well as the earlier, NHSR (Number 12, December 10, 2008).
Link to the press release:

Need for Better Public Education in Integrative Medicine

  • However, most of the information people receive about CAM lacks a basis in research. With skyrocketing health care costs, the need to increase public awareness of the evidence base of CAM and to its utilization where appropriate is imperative.
  • 50% of U.S. Public, use alternative Medicine
  • MD’S Refer for Chinese Medicine more than any other alternative medicine
  • 51% of MD’S understand the efficacy and value of Tai Chi
  • Adults in the United States spent $33.9 billion out-of-pocket on visits to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practitioners, products, classes and materials for self-care.

Integrative Medicine Becoming Mainstream

When used in circumstances in which experience has shown they may be effective, complementary therapies are gaining acceptance by conventional medical researchers and practitioners. Although the mechanism of action for many traditional therapies may not have conclusive scientific evidence, much of the benefits are based on research and not just unproven claims. Traditional therapies can offer a low cost and effective alternative to an increasingly inaccessible health care system.
The National Institutes of Health recently published a review of the scientific literature on acupuncture. They found that it works for pain and certain other conditions, even though western researchers do not have a good theory as to why it works. Should we use therapies anyway, even if we do not understand why it works? If it can be shown to be safe and cost-effective, the answer is increasingly “yes”.

Need For Better Research

The Office of Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health is currently working on helping complementary medicine therapists and researchers gain the scientific acumen to fund studies that legitimately and fairly test the effectiveness of their therapies.
The best prevention techniques are in teaching people to care for their own health and prevent illness. Therapies that recommend physical activity and exercise and a sensible diet – like T’ai chi and yoga – are good preventative measures in any culture or time. Popular therapies include acupuncture, acupressure, reflexology, chiropractic, biofeedback, hypnosis, relaxation techniques, guided imagery, homeopathy, massage therapy, yoga, T’ai chi chuan, herbalism, and even vitamins.
Perhaps the greatest advantage and incentive for our health care system is that most complementary therapies are considerably lower cost than conventional therapies. In addition, when these therapies are medically supervised, they have fewer side effects.
In Chinese Medicine, the emphasis upon prevention, through diet and exercises like T’ai chi chuan have produced a model health promotion campaign called the “patriotic health movement” in China. Currently, many Metro area hospitals are using T’ai chi as an effective physical activity for older adults to improve balance, fitness levels, stress response, and functional independence.

People Simply Want More Choices

Studies show that satisfaction with mainstream medicine is not an important factor in deciding to use CAM. People that seek alternatives in medicine are generally satisfied with their mainstream care, and they use CAM because it aligns with their philosophy, and they simply want to expand their options.

Users tend to believe in the importance of body, mind, and spirit in health. they are better educated and believe in holistic approaches towards health and well being. They are more likely to have had some type of transformational experience that has changed their worldview in some significant way, and they tend to be classified as cultural creatives. Users of alternative health care tend to have more health problems than nonusers and perhaps that is what spurs them on to look for alternatives.

The Fact of the Matter is: It Works!

The efficacy of alternative medicine being cited nearly twice as often as other reported benefits. Relief of symptoms is the main benefit reported.  A central finding is that users of alternative health care are no more dissatisfied with or distrustful of conventional care than nonusers are.