Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

A Survey of Complementary and Alternative Medicine Knowledge among Health Educators in the United States

Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

A Survey of Complementary and Alternative Medicine Knowledge among Health Educators in the United States

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Background: Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is popular among U.S. health care consumers, but no study has examined how much health educators know about CAM. Purpose: To examine the knowledge of basic CAM concepts and common CAM therapies among health educators in the U.S. Methods: An online survey was conducted among 1,299 health educators with valid e-mails on a professional listserv. The response rate was 39%. The 16-item CAM knowledge scale yielded a Cronbach's alpha of .71. Results: Participating health educators were most knowledgeable about chiropractic and massage therapy, familiar with the general definition of CAM, understood whether acupuncture is beneficial in treating a variety of health conditions, and whether there is sufficient scientific evidence regarding CAM safety and effectiveness. Participants were unclear about the difference between complementary medicine and alternative medicine. CAM knowledge appeared to be influenced by the participants' sex, education level, race/ethnicity, and employment setting. Discussion: Similar to other studies, participating health educators were more familiar with the concepts of commonly used CAM therapies than those of less widely practiced ones. Translation to Health Education Practice: CAM education should be implemented as part of a professional preparation curriculum and in the form of continuing education for health educators in the U.S.

BACKGROUND

In recent years, complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) has gained popularity in the U.S. due in large part to the increasing demand from individuals outside of the medical community. Published surveys have revealed that the proportion of adults who used at least one of the 16 CAM therapies in a given year increased from 33.8% in 1990 to 42.1% in 1997 (1) and to 62% in 2002. (2) CAM use is even more prevalent among individuals who are actively seeking care for a specific medical condition. For example, one study in 1999 reported that up to 72% of cancer patients used at least one form of CAM. (3) According to the 2005 Institute of Medicine Report on Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the United States, the use of CAM is prevalent and will continue. (4)

Although the term "CAM" is broadly used to refer to a group of diverse health care systems, practices, and products that are not considered part of conventional Western medicine, CAM includes two distinctively different concepts: alternative medicine and complementary medicine. (5) When a CAM therapy or product is used in place of conventional medicine--such as trying a special diet to treat cancer instead of undergoing surgery and chemotherapy recommended by a conventional doctor--it is considered alternative medicine. When a CAM therapy or product is used together with conventional medicine, such as using massage therapy to lessen a patient's discomfort following a surgery, it is considered complementary medicine. (5) While there is some scientific evidence regarding the effects for a limited number of CAM practices, therapies, and products, most still need to be examined for their safety and "claimed" efficacy and effectiveness. (5)

To date, a limited number of studies have examined knowledge of CAM therapies among health professionals in the U.S. Those studies primarily examined self-reported knowledge or awareness of specific CAM therapies among various health professionals. For example, several studies asked participants to describe their level of knowledge of common CAM therapies on a Likert scale ranging from "no knowledge" to "a great amount of knowledge." (6-9) Other studies asked participants to state whether they had knowledge of a series of CAM therapies. (10-14) An extensive review of the extant literature identified only one study that objectively measured the actual knowledge of several CAM therapies among health professionals. (15) That study, however, included items primarily assessing knowledge of herbal medicine and two CAM therapies among pharmacists and did not assess general knowledge of basic CAM concepts and common CAM therapies across a wider audience of health professionals. …

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