It’s time to stop thinking of CAM as a homogeneous alternative to conventional medicine. Approximately 40% of the U.S. population use some form of CAM. In addition to studying the efficacy of CAM therapies, it’s time to assess individual CAM options from a socio-economic perspective.

A recent survey of 2000 adults addresses the socio-economic aspects of this issue. The researchers categorized CAM as 1) biologically based, 2) mind-body, 3) manipulative, and 4) whole CAM medical systems. Specific examples of these categories are discussed here.
The respondents indicated that their use of health services was a function of one or a combination of factors.

  • Predisposing characteristics: socio-demographic variables and health-related attitudes
  • Enabling characteristics: resources that promote or impede health services use (eg, income and health insurance)
  • Need characteristics: the medical need for health service (eg, illness and impairment)

Women are always more likely to use a CAM therapy compared to men. Other findings are listed here.

  • Biologically-based therapies are more likely to be used by young, better educated people, and those without health insurance
  • Mind-body therapies are more likely to be used by older individuals, those with higher family income, and better educated people.
  • Arthritis, allergies, digestive problems, and anxiety predisposed to using mind-body therapies
  • Manipulative therapies are more likely to be used by the better educated, Caucasians, those living in rural areas, and those with higher incomes. Back/neck pain and allergies also predispose to using manipulative CAM
  • Whole CAM medical systems are more likely to be used by those with higher levels of education, racial-ethnic minorities, and those without health insurance. Back/neck pain, insomnia, allergies, and anxiety also predispose to using whole CAM medical system care

CAM will come of age as we continue to separate these therapies and understand the predisposing conditions that lead to their use. This is a start.

8/1/06 16:13 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.