Why You Must Tell Your Doctor About Your Complementary Therapies
Read about why you need to talk to your provider about alternative and complementary therapies before starting a treatment care regimen and tips on what to say.
·November 2nd, 2021
Many Americans use alternative and complementary therapies, such as supplements and acupuncture.
Care that is not thought of as standard medical care in Western countries is commonly referred to as “complementary and alternative medicine,” or CAM.
You can use CAM for a variety of health conditions.
It’s important to discuss CAM therapies with your healthcare providers prior to beginning any new therapy or care plan.
You should choose your providers carefully, communicate with them clearly, and keep them up to date on your care plans. Bright Belly’s provider search can help you find a good fit for you.
If you’re interested in using alternative or complementary therapies, you’re in good company. More than half of Americans surveyed by Pew Research Center reported using some form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), also sometimes known as integrative medicine. But before you get started on a new therapy or care plan, it’s important for you to speak with your provider.
Read on to learn more about CAM therapies, how to prepare for a conversation with your doctor, the right questions to ask, and how to keep your provider up to date on your care.
You may have heard the terms “complementary,” “alternative,” “holistic,” and “integrative” medicine and wondered how they are related. These terms continue to evolve, and many people use the terms interchangeably. But there are subtle differences among them.
It’s easiest to think of these terms as follows:
Complementary medicine: A term for therapies that are used along with traditional Western care.
Alternative medicine: Therapies that are used as a substitute for traditional Western care.
Integrative medicine: Uses a combination of both traditional Western and complementary and alternative medicine. Many hospitals have integrative medicine departments, particularly for cancer care.
Holistic medicine: A term used to describe any therapy that has the goal of treating the whole person rather than individual symptoms. Piecing together a treatment plan using both conventional and complementary/alternative therapies could be considered a form of holistic care.
Many of the people who use complementary therapies also use standardized or traditional Western care. CAM is commonly used by people undergoing treatment for cancer or other chronic health conditions. Its use is becoming more mainstream throughout the United States.
Why should I talk to my doctor before beginning a CAM therapy?
You wouldn’t start a new prescription medication or rigorous diet and exercise routine without speaking to your provider first, right? The same goes for using alternative or holistic remedies. It’s important to speak to your provider to minimize any potential risks related to your care plan.
Speaking with your provider is crucial to help you avoid the following risks:
Drug interactions. Some dietary supplements, vitamins, and herbs can cause serious interactions when mixed with other supplements or medications. This is especially true of certain types of prescription medication.
Interference with other treatment methods. Some dietary and herbal supplements can interfere with the effectiveness of certain medications, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy.
You should ensure your provider is aware of all medications, supplements, or vitamins you are taking. You should also be sure to discuss your potential risk of side effects or interference, based on your current health status or other treatment plans.
If you’re not sure how to start a discussion with your doctor about CAM therapies, the following tips may help.
Prepare for your visit in advance
A little preparation goes a long way. Take the time to research the complementary therapy or alternative treatment you’re considering, prepare your questions, and gather your health history before your visit. Your time may be limited with your provider, so this will help you to take charge of your visit.
Here are a few things you can do to prepare for your visit:
Do your research. Learn more about CAM therapies that may be helpful for your condition. Use trustworthy resources to learn about the basics of the therapy. The NIH has put together a list of reputable resources and fact sheets for people interested in using complementary therapies. Bright Belly’s articles are another great resource to learn about new or unfamiliar types of complementary treatment.
Explore your options. There are many CAM therapies to choose from. Learn about the specific therapies you are interested in trying. This will help you to focus the conversation during your visit.
Prepare your questions. Be prepared with a list of questions for each appointment. You will likely have more during your first visit.
Have your health history ready. Inform your practitioner of treatment methods you’ve used in the past and any that you are currently using. Think about the specific health conditions, side effects, or challenges you would like to address.
Research suggests that many traditional health care and mental health providers are unaware of their patients’ CAM practices. This means that your provider is unlikely to discuss them with you unless you broach the topic. You can have a more productive conversation by being upfront about your wish to discuss conservative therapies or holistic remedies during your visit.
Here are a few tips to help you get the conversation going:
List all alternative or complementary therapies you use on your intake form. Be thorough in listing all medications, supplements, herbs, or CAM treatments. Whether you’re using acupuncture or an herbal remedy, make sure it is listed.
Tell your provider why you use or want to use CAM. Explain why you are interested in or committed to using CAM. This can help your provider to understand your values and approach to care.
Ask questions. Discuss any concerns or questions you have with them, so you can work together to create the best care plan. Ask about safety, efficacy, or potential interactions with your current medical treatment.
Be open to advice. Your provider should discuss any potential risks or concerns they have for your using specific CAM therapies. Be open to hearing their concerns and point of view.
Ask for clarification. Don’t let your questions or misunderstandings go unaddressed. This goes for medical terms or unclear communication.
Request additional resources. Don’t be afraid to ask your provider for additional resources or information.
Keep your provider updated about your complementary therapies
Your care plan or condition may change over time. This makes it important to stay on top of any symptoms or side effects from your alternative or complementary treatment. You should keep your providers updated on your care at each visit.
Here are a few simple ways to keep your provider updated:
Keep an ongoing list of medications and supplements
Keep an ongoing list of all CAM use
Take note of the appearance of any new symptoms or side effects
Schedule routine visits with your provider
Write down any new questions that come up between visits
Call your doctor if your condition suddenly changes
You may have a lot of questions when starting out with an alternative or complementary therapy. You may also be unsure of where to start. Get started on the right foot with the list of questions below.
Is this therapy safe to use with my current medications or treatment?
Do the potential benefits outweigh the risks for my situation?
Is there research available on this therapy?
Is this therapy part of a clinical trial?
Is this therapy likely to be covered by my insurance?
Do you have more information or resources on this therapy?
Any specific questions about the concerns you have.
Here’s what to do if your provider won’t talk to you about CAM:
Research shows that some healthcare providers are unsure or unaware of how to discuss CAM therapies with their patients. Remember that you have the final say in your care plan. If your provider will not discuss your interest in or concerns about CAM, you have additional options.
You may wish to:
Ask to see another provider in the office, such as a different doctor or nurse practitioner.
Remind your provider of your reasons for wanting to use CAM.
Request a second opinion.
Find support for using complementary and alternative therapies
Choosing the right complementary practitioner may feel challenging. Let Bright Belly be your ally on your way to better holistic health. Follow our blog for more information on complementary and alternative therapies, and visit our provider directory to find a practitioner near you.