Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the United States

While relatively new in the U.S., complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is a
fully accepted and integrated form of health care in many areas of the world and has
existed since antiquity. For Americans, CAM is one of the fastest growing fields in
healthcare and is more widely used today than ever before. Millions of Americans are
spending billions of out-of-pocket dollars on CAM therapies. Its widespread use has had
impact on users, practitioners, researchers and policy makers. CAM’s growing influence
has been described as a “hidden mainstream in American medicine.”1 This surge has
resulted in the need to better understand the market, from a personal and public health
perspective.

The recent increase in the interest and growth of complementary and alternative medicine
can be attributed to many reasons including technological, economic, cultural and social
trends. Its growth is also fueled by the rising dissatisfaction with the traditional health
care & delivery of medicine in the United States. Additionally, self-empowerment,
personal savings accounts and the internet are enabling greater access to alternative
medicine.2

Some attribute the growth in CAM to the view that the combination of CAM with
conventional medicine is better than conventional medicine alone. Additionally CAM
treatments fill gaps, such as the treatment of chronic pain and other debilitating
conditions, in areas where conventional medical practices are not always successful.
CAM is also being used with certain medical conditions that are without a cure or with
conditions that have a cure but have significant side effects such as cancer.

Other Americans are turning to CAM because they feel the current healthcare system is
failing them for many reasons. These include access to health insurance, cost prohibitive
prescriptions, impersonal & dismissive physicians, a heavy reliance on drugs,
misdiagnosis, and conflicting views regarding the maintenance of wellness.3

A more empowered approach to healthcare is another reason for growing enthusiasm for
alternative treatment approaches. CAM users are choosing alternative treatments because
they are more personal, less invasive and often have lower costs. There is a growing
movement away from disease management to a more holistic approach to healthcare that
includes a shift from the emphasis on technology for healing to a focus on the natural
healing ability of the body. CAM philosophies align with users’ personal value systems..

Very importantly, interest in CAM research continues to grow as more and more studies
are funded to establish the evidence base required for CAM integration and acceptance
into routine physical care. Despite its fast growth, there are still low levels of
understanding regarding the complementary and alternative medicine market. The
purpose of this chapter is to provide a better understanding of the definition of CAM, its
origins and background, market trends, users of CAM, and research.

Posted in Alternative Medicine

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