Characteristics of visits to licensed acupuncturists, chiropractors, massage therapists, and naturopathic physicians

Daniel C. Cherkin, Richard A. Deyo, Karen J. Sherman, L. Gary Hart, Janet H. Street, Andrea Hrbek, Roger B. Davis, Elaine Cramer, Bruce Milliman, Jennifer Booker, Robert Mootz, James Barassi, Janet R. Kahn, Ted J. Kaptchuk, David M. Eisenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

168 Scopus citations


Background: Despite growing popularity of complementary and alternative medical (CAM) therapies, little is known about the patients seen by CAM practitioners. Our objective was to describe the patients and problems seen by CAM practitioners. Methods: We collected data on 20 consecutive visits to randomly sampled licensed acupuncturists, chiropractors, massage therapists, and naturopathic physicians practicing in Arizona, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Washington. Data were collected on patient demographics, smoking status, referral source, reasons for visit, concurrent medical care, payment source, and visit duration. Comparative data for conventional physicians were drawn from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey. Results: In each profession, at least 99 practitioners collected data on more than 1,800 visits. More than 80% of visits to CAM providers were by young and middle-aged adults, and roughly two thirds were by women. Children comprised 10% of visits to naturopathic physicians but only 1% to 4% of all visits to other CAM providers. At least two thirds of visits resulted from self-referrals, and only 4% to 12% of visits were from conventional physician referrals. Chiropractors and massage therapists primarily saw musculoskeletal problems, while acupuncturists and naturopathic physicians saw a broader range of conditions. Visits to acupuncturists and massage therapists lasted about 60 minutes compared with 40 minutes for naturopathic physicians and less than 20 minutes for chiropractors. Most visits to chiropractors and naturopathic physicians, but less than one third of visits to acupuncturists and massage therapists, were covered by insurance. Conclusions: This information will help inform discussions of the roles CAM practitioners will play in the health care system of the future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)463-472
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of the American Board of Family Practice
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes


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