Complementary and alternative care

If you’ve picked up a medical journal in the last few years, you’ve likely heard about complementary and alternative medicine—an increasing number of health care practices in Canada are offering such care on site as many more patients have come to request it. In fact, data from the Canadian Community Health Survey indicates that one-fifth of all Canadians have used some form of alternative care, and demand for such care continues to grow.In case you’ve skipped the journals, here’s a quick review. According to academic E. Ernst, who has studied this field extensively, complementary and alternative medicine is defined as “diagnosis, treatment and/or prevention which complements mainstream medicine by contributing to a common whole, by satisfying a demand not met by orthodoxy or by diversifying the conceptual frameworks of medicine. In plain English, this means that the service line extends but is not limited to prayer, aromatherapy, massage therapy, chiropractic care, colour therapy, pet therapy, music therapy, yoga, tai chi, acupuncture and herbal remedies and supplements.

Some organizations have been slow to adopt this type of treatment, mainly because many of the complementary care methods and medicines have not been scientifically studied for effectiveness and in some cases, safety. Some complementary care efforts, like prayer, are extremely difficult to even attempt to study. However, it’s impossible to ignore that demand for these services is growing, which signals a need for health care providers to not just offer such services, but to speak about them knowledgeably in order to answer patient questions and concerns.

If your health care organization offers, supports, or is knowledgeable of complementary care, here are a few tips for ensuring successful integration and promotion:

  • Communication is key. Be sure that staff in all patient-facing service lines know what complementary care services are offered. Get the word out by distributing a fact sheet or brochure. Make it stick by including an item that can double for patient promotion, too, like Syringe Pens, Aloe lip balm or clipboards used for paperwork.
  • Other materials to have on hand for interested patients and visitors include fact sheets that explain what complementary care is and the risks and benefits involved with many complementary care techniques. There are many resources on the Health Canada website to draw from when creating your materials.
  • Offer complementary care items that encourage overall health and comfort, like Fitness Journal or handheld massage tools, in patient care kits or family waiting rooms for patients or family members to take home.
  • Develop partnerships with complementary care providers to offer some control over the quality of care given to patients seeking complementary care services not offered in your facilities. Then, create patient information folders with fact sheets and contact information to offer interested patients.

Complementary care is in demand. In knowing what it is, what is safe and what is available to patients, not only are you ensuring their safety, but your organization might very well be positioned as leaders in providing the latest in care options.

Health Reports: Use of alternative health care.Statistics Canada. Web. 2 July 2010.

“Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM): A brief guide.” Toronto Public Library. Web. 2 July 2010.

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