MD, PhD, MAE, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

Although the use of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) is said to be rising among older adults, many do
not discuss these healthcare practices with their primary care practitioners (PCPs). This recent US survey sought to determine the prevalence of SCAM use and to identify factors associated with SCAM disclosure among patients ages 65 and older.

Participants completed an anonymous survey, which evaluated their SCAM use over the past year and disclosure of SCAM to a PCP. Additional questions queried demographics, patient health, and relationships with one’s PCP. Analyses included descriptive statistics, chi-square tests, and logistic regression.

One hundred seventy-three participants answered surveys (response rate=23%). The Main findings were as follows:

  • Sixty percent reported the use of at least one form of SCAM in the past year.
  • Among those using SCAM, 64% disclosed use to their PCP.
  • Patients disclosed supplements/herbal products and naturopathy/homeopathy/acupuncture at a higher rate than bodywork techniques and mind-body practices (71.9% and 66.7% vs. 48% and 50%).
  • The only factor significantly associated with disclosure was trust in one’s PCP (odds ratio=2.97; confidence interval=1.01–8.73).
  • The most commonly used types of SCAM were herbal products/dietary supplements (37.0%), mind-body therapies (28.9%), bodywork techniques (26.6%), and naturopathy/acupuncture/homeopathy (8.7%).

The authors concluded that clinicians may improve SCAM disclosure rates in older adults by inquiring about all types of SCAM and continuing to invest in their patient relationships, specifically by building trust.

The one-year prevalence of SCAM use – 60% – is extraordinary and considerably higher than in other surveys. How can this be explained?

I think that two factors might have played a role: firstly the survey was tiny, and secondly, its response rate was dismal. People who have no interest in SCAM would probably have not responded. Thus the prevalence figure is way too high and the survey is not representative of any population.

Having said that, I believe that some of the conclusions are still correct. As I have pointed out so often already:

  • doctors need to ask their patients about SCAM usage;
  • once they have identified a SCAM user, they need to advise him/her responsibly;
  • to do that, they need to know about SCAM;
  • as most doctors have little knowledge about the subject, they need to learn;
  • failing to do that is not ethical behavior.

3 Responses to 60% of older Americans are said to use so-called alternative medicine (SCAM)

  • No surprise. Septics think they know everything, as rulers of the universe but, the reality is, they know nothing outside their limited borders, as limited that view is, or of their personal borders.

    It is little wonder I won’t ever go to the USA. In Europe, if I ever hear an American accent, Australian too, I lower my voice and walk away.

    • Skeptics do not have limited borders. A skeptical person is happy to take on new knowledge if evidence supports it.

  • It really is disheartening seeing how many vulnerable people are falling for these scams waisting both money and there health ,

    when I became interested in the medical field it was to help people , but as time goes on it seems like so many(especially private companies ) seem to want to make a profit rather than actually helping people

    How can I make sure I go to a workplace that doesn’t scam people , as I know , upcoding , double billing and all sorts of other stuff goes on in the medical industry

    But the alternative industry is even worse like 10x worse for scams because almost nothing they do is actually evidence based or works and there set to lie to make massive profits

    Just seen so overwhelmed with how I can choose a job that doesn’t contribute to the corruption but also make a decent living for myself.

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