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:
- 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.
"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.
"As frequent users of CAM, people 50 and older need to understand the importance of discussing CAM use with their providers to ensure coordinated, safe care. Simply put, it's time to talk," said Josephine P. Briggs, M.D., NCCAM Director. "Giving your health care providers a full picture of what you do to manage your health helps you stay in control."
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 Web site 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. As the Federal government's lead agency for scientific research on CAM, NCCAM is committed to educating both consumers and health care providers about the importance of discussing CAM and providing evidence-based information to help with health care decision making.
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 health care 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 health care providers about its safety, effectiveness, and possible interactions with medicines (both prescription and over-the-counter).
Provider Tips for Discussing CAM with Patients
- Include a question about CAM use on medical history forms.
- Ask your patients to bring a list of all therapies they use, including prescription, over-the-counter, herbal therapies, and other CAM practices.
- Have your medical staff initiate the conversation.
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 nccam.nih.gov/timetotalk/.