I’ve largely ignored these studies in the past, but perhaps it’s worth a second look.

To start, this 1993 study by Dr. David Eisenberg, who is now the director of Complementary and Integrative Medical Therapies at Harvard University, is considered a landmark in the field of “unconventional medicine.”

First, the details.

  • A national survey was conducted to determine the prevalence, costs, and patterns of use of unconventional therapies, such as acupuncture and chiropractic.
  • The survey included 16 commonly used CAMs neither taught widely in US medical schools nor generally available in US hospitals.
  • Telephone interviews were conducted with 1539 adults.
  • Respondents were asked to report any serious or bothersome medical conditions and details of their use of conventional medical services.

And, the results.

  • 34% used at least 1 unconventional therapy in the past year.
  • Most commonly used CAM:
    • Exercise: 26%
    • Prayer: 25%
    • Relaxation: 13%
    • Chiropractic: 10%
    • Massage: 7%
    • Imagery: 4%
    • Spiritual healing: 4%
    • Commercial weight loss program: 4%
    • Lifestyle diets (eg, macrobiotics): 4%
    • Herbal medicine: 3%
    • Megavitamin therapy: 2%
    • Self-help: 2%
    • Energy: 1%
    • Biofeedback: 1%
    • Hypnosis: 1%
    • Homeopathy: 1%
    • Acupuncture: less than 1%
    • Folk remedies: less than 1%
  • A third of CAM users saw CAM providers an average of 19 times during the preceding year.
  • The average charge per visit: $28.
  • Highest use was among nonblack persons from 25 to 49 years old with more education and higher incomes.
  • Most used unconventional therapy for chronic medical conditions.
  • 72% of the respondents who used unconventional therapy did not inform their medical doctor.
  • Extrapolation to the US. population:
    • 425 million visits to CAM providers — exceeding the number of visits to all US primary care physicians (388 million).
    • Expenditures associated with CAM: $14 billion, three quarters ($10 billion) paid out of pocket.
    • Comparable to  $13 billion spent out of pocket annually for all hospitalizations in the US.

The bottom line?

2 decades ago, a third of Americans used CAM.

As new studies are published, we’ll see how more recent data compare.

5/24/10 18:11 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 www.Vicus.com, a complementary and alternative medicine website.