Talking with Your Doctor About Alternative Medicine

Many people with arthritis, cancer, and other illnesses use alternative or complementary therapies, such as acupuncture, herbs, or vitamins and minerals, without telling their doctor. Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) includes dietary changes, dietary supplements, massage, exercise,  mind/body therapies, and other approaches.

Steps to take

The following suggestions can help you work with your doctor if you choose to use CAM:

  • Inform your health care provider about any alternative therapies you're using or considering, including massage, acupuncture, chiropractic care, herbal and essential oils, vitamins and minerals, and special diets.

  • Don't assume your provider will respond negatively. Today, many health care providers acknowledge the effectiveness of certain alternative approaches. Many of them also work with complementary therapists and may be able to recommend a massage therapist or acupuncturist.

  • Ask your provider if he or she sees anything in your medical history or current health profile that could make a particular alternative therapy risky for you.

  • Tell your provider if you plan to use an alternative medicine treatment, even if he or she advises against doing so. It's important for your health care provider to note your decision in your records.

  • Ask your provider to monitor therapies with potential or documented toxicity, including herbal preparations, dietary regimens and supplements, medicinal agents delivered by injection, intravenous infusion, and certain forms of spinal manipulation.

  • Tell your provider if an alternative provider advises you to do something that conflicts with his or her medical recommendations.

  • Ask your provider if he or she knows a lot about a remedy you're using or thinking of trying. If the provider has reservations about the therapy, ask for a detailed explanation.

  • Offer information if your provider doesn't know about a therapy you're using. If your provider doesn't have enough time to stay current on every kind of alternative treatment, it's your responsibility to research the risks and benefits of a particular remedy.

You also can ask your alternative practitioner to send your health care provider information on the alternative treatment plan.

Finally, ask for a prescription or referral if your provider approves, or doesn't object to, an alternative treatment. Some health insurance carriers cover some therapies, such as massage or chiropractic, if your provider prescribes it.