The growing use of alternative and complementary therapies in the United States as well as other parts of the world is a trend that the responsible rheumatologist cannot ignore. With chronic musculoskeletal conditions being the leading indication for the use of alternative and complementary therapies, rheumatologists must become experts on talking to patients and advising them about the use or avoidance of such therapies. Currently, there is a growing body of literature on the safety and efficacy of the multiple alternative and complementary therapies available. Much of this information is reliable and of high methologic quality; however, much of it is not. With an increase in the budget of the Office of Alternative Medicine from $20 to $50 million in 1999 and the status of the office changing to an independent center, an important step has been taken to try to assure improved research in the near future to validate or disprove many of the current alternative and complementary therapies. In the meantime, our patients are using these therapies and are likely to continue to do so, with or without our guidance. We must get beyond the 'don't ask, don't tell' approach that characterizes many physicians' attitudes toward the subject of alternative and complementary therapies. Although all discussions need not end in agreement, they are still opportunities for shared decision making and 'relationship- centered care.' Ultimately, we should not be concerned with practicing what is perceived to be traditional versus alternative and complementary medicine or biomedicine versus naturalistic medicine but only with what is truly 'good' medicine.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported in part by funds from the Carol and Morton Siegler Center for Integrative Medicine, Department of Medicine, Saint Barnabas Medical Center, Saint Barnabas Health Care System.