Time to Talk about CAM: 

Healthcare Providers and Patients Need To Ask and Tell


National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has launched Time to Talk, an educational campaign to encourage patients—particularly those age 50 or older—and their healthcare providers to openly discuss the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). CAM is a group of diverse medical and healthcare systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine, such as herbal supplements, meditation, naturopathy, and acupuncture.

According to a national consumer survey conducted by NCCAM and AARP, almost two-thirds of people age 50 or older are using some form of CAM, yet less than one-third of these CAM users talk about it with their providers. The NCCAM/AARP survey revealed some reasons why this doctor-patient dialogue about CAM does not occur. The most common reasons survey respondents cited were:

  • That the physician never asked 
  • They did not know they should discuss CAM
  • There was not enough time during the office visit.

More than one-half of respondents who had talked about CAM with their physician said they (not their physician) initiated the CAM discussion. The telephone survey was administered to a nationally representative group of 1,559 people age 50 or older.

NCCAM’s Time to Talk campaign encourages patients to tell their providers about CAM use and providers to ask about it by offering tools and resources—such as wallet cards, posters, and tip sheets—all of which are available for free on the NCCAM website or can be ordered from NCCAM’s information clearinghouse (1-888-644-6226). NCCAM is reaching out to professional associations and consumer organizations to help educate their members about the importance of this dialogue and the availability of NCCAM’s campaign materials.

Patient Tips for Discussing CAM With Providers

  • When completing patient history forms, be sure to include all therapies and treatments you use. Make a list in advance.
  • Tell your healthcare providers about all therapies or treatments including over-the-counter and prescription medicines, as well as herbal and dietary supplements.
  • Take control. Don’t wait for your providers to ask about your CAM use. 
  • If you are considering a new CAM therapy, ask your healthcare providers about its safety, effectiveness, and possible interactions with medicines (both prescription and over-the-counter). 

For Further Information

For more information on Time to Talk, to order or download materials, or to read the full NCCAM/AARP report on CAM-use communication, please visit Time to talk about CAM.

Source: The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Reprinted from the August 2008 AANA NewsBulletin, Clinical Rounds column.