A SUBSTANTIAL proportion of patients use alternative medicine, spending
an estimated $13 billion each year.1- 3
Complementary and alternative medicine incorporates "all health systems, modalities,
and practices other than those intrinsic to the politically dominant health
system of a particular society or culture" and "includes all practices and
ideas self-defined by their users as preventing or treating illness or promoting
health and well-being."4 Under this definition,
the scope of professional obligations regarding alternative medicine for clinicians
who provide conventional medical care is unclear. Despite the popularity of
alternative medicine, conventional medicine is arguably the politically dominant
health system with a somewhat circumscribed set of practices that differ from
alternative therapies. However, given the strong professional obligations
clinicians have toward helping patients meet health-related goals, the scope
of these obligations with respect to alternative medicine deserves discussion.
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