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How to Select a Complementary and Alternative Medicine Provider

Important things to consider when you are looking for a complementary or alternative medicine practitioner.

Important things to consider when you are looking for a complementary or alternative medicine practitioner.

Selecting a health care practitioner--of conventional1 or complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)--is an important decision and can be key to ensuring that you are receiving the best health care. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) has developed this fact sheet to answer frequently asked questions about selecting a CAM practitioner, such as issues to consider when making your decision and important questions to ask the practitioner you select.

1 Conventional medicine is medicine as practiced by holders of M.D. (medical doctor) or D.O. (doctor of osteopathy) degrees and by their allied health professionals, such as physical therapists, psychologists, and registered nurses. Other terms for conventional medicine include allopathy; Western, mainstream, orthodox, and regular medicine; and biomedicine. Some conventional medical practitioners are also practitioners of CAM.

Key Points

  • If you are seeking a CAM practitioner, speak with your primary health care provider(s) regarding the therapy in which you are interested. Ask if they have a recommendation for the type of CAM practitioner you are seeking.
  • Make a list of CAM practitioners and gather information about each before making your first visit. Ask basic questions about their credentials and practice. Where did they receive their training? What licenses or certifications do they have? How much will the treatment cost?
  • Check with your insurer to see if the cost of therapy will be covered.
  • After you select a practitioner, make a list of questions to ask at your first visit. You may want to bring a friend or family member who can help you ask questions and note answers.
  • Come to the first visit prepared to answer questions about your health history, including injuries, surgeries, and major illnesses, as well as prescription medicines, vitamins, and other supplements you may take.
  • Assess your first visit and decide if the practitioner is right for you. Did you feel comfortable with the practitioner? Could the practitioner answer your questions? Did he respond to you in a way that satisfied you? Does the treatment plan seem reasonable and acceptable to you?

 

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Frequently asked questions on finding a practitioner of alternative or complementary medicine

I am interested in a CAM therapy that involves treatment from a practitioner. How do I go about finding a practitioner?

Before selecting a CAM therapy or practitioner, talk with your primary health care provider(s). Tell them about the therapy you are considering and ask any questions you may have. They may know about the therapy and be able to advise you on its safety, use, and effectiveness, or possible interactions with medications. Here are some suggestions for finding a practitioner:

  • Ask your doctor or other health professionals whether they have recommendations or are willing to make a referral.
  • Contact a nearby hospital or a medical school and ask if they maintain a list of area CAM practitioners or could make a recommendation. Some regional medical centers may have CAM centers or CAM practitioners on staff.
  • Ask if your therapy will be covered by insurance; for example, some insurers cover visits to a chiropractor. If the therapy will be covered, ask for a list of CAM practitioners who accept your insurance.
  • Contact a professional organization for the type of practitioner you are seeking. Often, professional organizations have standards of practice, provide referrals to practitioners, have publications explaining the therapy (or therapies) that their members provide, and may offer information on the type of training needed and whether practitioners of a therapy must be licensed or certified in your state. Professional organizations can be located by searching the Internet or directories in libraries (ask the librarian). One directory is the Directory of Information Resources Online (DIRLINE) compiled by the National Library of Medicine (dirline.nlm.nih.gov). It contains locations and descriptive information about a variety of health organizations, including CAM associations and organizations. You may find more than one member organization for some CAM professions; this may be because there are different "schools" of practice within the profession or for other reasons.
  • Many states have regulatory agencies or licensing boards for certain types of practitioners. They may be able to provide you with information regarding practitioners in your area. Your state, county, or city health department may be able to refer you to such agencies or boards. Licensing, accreditation, and regulatory laws for CAM practices are becoming more common to help ensure that practitioners are competent and provide quality services.

Last Updated: 08 July 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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