So-called alternative medicine (SCAM) use has been increasingly prevalent among Americans, whereas its relationship with medical non-adherence is unknown. Using the National Health Interview Survey, this analysis evaluated the use of SCAM modalities and their association with cost-related nonadherence to medical care (CRN) among older Americans by gender strata.
Americans, aged 50 or above in the 2012 National Health Interview Survey, were included to evaluate the use of SCAM modalities and their association with CRN. SCAM modalities were categorized as the use of the following in the past 12 months:
- 1) herbal supplements;
- 2) chiropractic or osteopathic manipulations;
- 3) massage;
- 4) Yoga, tai chi, or qigong;
- 5) Mantra/mindfulness/spiritual meditation,
- 6) acupuncture;
- 7) mind-body therapy;
- 8) other SCAM modalities including homeopathy, naturopathy, traditional healers, energy healing therapy, biofeedback, hypnosis, and craniosacral therapy.
CRN was defined as needing medical care but not receiving it due to costs and/or having medical care delayed due to costs in the past 12 months. The investigators developed a multivariable logit model to assess the association of the use of SCAM modalities and CRN controlling for patients age, gender, race, ethnicity, insurance status (Medicare, Medicaid, VA/Tri-care, no-insurance, or private insurance), and comorbid conditions (diabetes, arthritis, back and neck problems, heart condition, stroke, lung and breathing problems, and cancer).
A total of 16,360 older Americans were included in the analysis, with 11,278 (68.9%) reporting at least one SCAM modality use, and 1,992 (12.2%) of them reported CRN. Among the 8 SCAM modalities, compared to those not using SCAM, those who used chiropractic were 94% more likely (p=0.01), those who used Mantra/mindfulness/spiritual meditation were 106% more likely (p<0.01), and those using other modalities were 42% more likely (p=0.07) to report CRN. In contrast, those who used mind-body therapy were 43% less likely (p=0.04) to report CRN. The other 4 modalities did not achieve statistically significant levels although the odds ratios were mostly greater than 1.
The authors argue that the differential association between the SCAM modality use and CRN suggested a complex relationship between the utilization of SCAM and patients’ non-adherence to medical care. It is possible that the out-of-pocket payments for those services significantly increased patients’ cost burden and thus made the use of other medical care unaffordable, and it’s also possible that those who already had low resources were more likely to seek SCAM to substitute for more expensive conventional care. Either of these scenarios would present a serious challenge.
The authors concluded that both men and women are more likely to report financial distress while using various SCAM modalities.
These findings are not easy to interpret. To me, they suggest that, in the US, many consumers have been persuaded to prioritize SCAM over conventional medicine, even if they can ill afford it. It throws a dim light on the US society where some folks seem to struggle to pay for what is essential while continuing to afford the superfluous.
In my view, in a just and non-decadent society, conventional healthcare must be free for everyone at the point of delivery, and SCAM is at best an extra that those who want it should pay out of their own pocket.