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NCCAM Launches Program to Help Boomers Understand CAM

Posted: July 18, 2008

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 50 or older—and their health care providers to openly discuss the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). CAM is a group of diverse medical and health care 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:

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.

"In an era of genomics and personalized medicine, we need to remember that a key ingredient to good health care is the dialogue you, as a patient, have with your providers," said Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D., NIH Director. "And talking about what CAM therapies you use is an important part of that discussion. This is important for people of all ages."

The Time to Talk campaign is aimed at addressing the need for this dialogue to help ensure safe, coordinated care among all conventional and CAM therapies. Talking not only allows integrated care, it also minimizes risks of interactions with a patient's conventional treatments. When patients tell their providers about their CAM use, they can more effectively manage their health. When providers ask their patients about CAM use, they can ensure that they are fully informed and can help patients make wise health care decisions.