There are no representative studies using a probability sample examining whether US physicians recommend so-called alternative medicines (SCAMs) to their patients. This article fills a void in the current literature for robust data on recommendations for SCAMs by office-based physicians in the US.

Descriptive statistics and multivariable regression analyses of physician-level data were from the 2012 Physician Induction Interview of the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS PII), a nationally representative survey of office-based physicians. Weighted response rate among eligible physicians sampled for the 2012 NAMCS PII was 59.7%.

Recommendations by physicians to their patients were recorded for any SCAM, and the following individual SCAMs: massage therapy, herbs/nonvitamin supplements, chiropractic/osteopathic manipulation, yoga, acupuncture, and mind–body therapies.

Massage therapy was the most commonly recommended SCAM (30.4%), followed by chiropractic/osteopathic manipulation (27.1%), herbs/nonvitamin supplements (26.5%), yoga (25.6%), and acupuncture (22.4%). The most commonly recommended SCAMs by general/family practice physicians were chiropractic/osteopathic manipulation (54.0%) and massage therapy (52.6%). Of all U.S. physicians, 53.1% recommended at least one SCAM to patients during the previous 12 months. Multivariable analyses found physician’s sex, race, specialty, and U.S. region to be significant predictors of SCAMrecommendations. Female physicians were more likely than male physicians to recommend massage therapy, herbs/nonvitamin supplements, yoga, acupuncture, and mind–body therapies to patients. Psychiatrists, OB/GYNs, and paediatricians were all less likely to recommend chiropractic/osteopathic manipulation than general and family practitioners.

The authors concluded that, overall, more than half of office-based physicians recommended at least one SCAM to their patients. Female physicians recommended every individual SCAM at a higher rate than male physicians except for chiropractic and osteopathic manipulation. These findings may enable consumers, physicians, and medical schools to better understand potential differences in use of SCAMs with patients.

Yes, I know!

Who cares what type of SCAMs US physicians recommended to their patients 7 years ago?

And who knows what the true figures would have looked like, if the ~40% who did not respond would have been included?

Such surveys usually tell us little of relevance. What is worse, they are misused for exploiting the ‘appeal to authority’ fallacy which hold that, if physicians recommend SCAMs, they must be fine. That this is a fallacy becomes obvious, if we remind ourselves that US physicians also are the main cause for the current opioid crisis in the US (if physicians recommend opioids, they must be fine???).

More importantly, I think, this survey also suggests the following:

  1. 73% of US physicians do NOT recommend chiropractic/osteopathic manipulations.
  2. 73% of them do NOT recommend herbal medicine.
  3. 74% of them do NOT recommend yoga.
  4. 77% of them do NOT recommend acupuncture.

I wonder why!


16 Responses to Recommendations of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) by US physicians

  • That are encouraging numbers…..

    • I am sure you mean those numbers:

      73% of US physicians do NOT recommend chiropractic/osteopathic manipulations.
      73% of them do NOT recommend herbal medicine.
      74% of them do NOT recommend yoga.
      77% of them do NOT recommend acupuncture.

  • I should like to see those results ran cleaner with a single referral source, ie chiropractic, osteopathic or acupuncturist. I am not sure that by leaving it open like that the results are of such high value. In the UK i doubt any or few practitioners would consider a massage referral a bad thing but there are few who would look upon chiropractic with the same slant.

  • How much better to prescribe opioids for their placating effect?

  • I have noted that many MDs are simply gullible to the notion that there is “some truth” lying behind chiroquackery, acupuncture and massage etc. as opposed to the recognition that they are all entrepreneurial theatrics masquerading as healthcare…performed by a segment of the populous not having the capability to join the ranks of real-scientific ventures. And there are many MDs in the 30% who I’d believe simply patronize the patient with the hope of a placebo response or to diminish their overburdened practices.

  • 73% of US physicians do NOT recommend chiropractic/osteopathic manipulations

    And how is that working out for them?

  • Good to hear there are some honorable wise men in CON-MED (conventional medicine) who know when to consult alternative therapies.

    • And the medical Dr will be responsible to your pseudoscience procedure if it goes bad, when he endorses it. A good lawyer in US will go after the money tree when a alternative medicine jackoff hurts his patient. He is going after medical Dr. with much more money tied up in hospital and malpractice insurance payouts. These Drs who do this are very gullible.

  • Do they really recommend them? Or, are they accepting their patients alternative ideas. Knowing it will not hurt them but in wallet. I cannot believe a medical doctor would recommend it, puts malpractice lawsuits back on them for endorsing it if a death or injury occurs. Lawyers are very good at what they do. They go after the money tree. I am having hard time with these numbers, seems wrong.

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