Rising health care costs may have spurred more individuals to use complementary and alternative medicine

Research Activities, September 2011, No. 373

Use of chiropractic care, massage, and acupuncture continues to grow, especially for individuals who have difficulty affording conventional medicine, a new study finds. Comparing data from the National Health Interview Surveys from 2002 and 2007, researchers found a relative increase of 14.2 percent in use of at least one complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) service (25.7 percent in 2002 vs. 29.4 percent in 2007). In 2007, Whites (33 percent) and Asians (31.8 percent) were the greatest users of CAM, followed by blacks (20.1 percent) and Hispanics (16.9 percent).

When individuals face financial barriers that prevent them from receiving conventional care, they are more likely to turn to more affordable CAM therapies for relief, the authors suggest. For instance, 38.5 percent of individuals who said they used at least one CAM therapy in 2007 also reported having an unmet medical need or delayed care because of cost. In contrast, only 28.1 percent of CAM users did not report having unmet needs or delayed care.

This upswing in CAM use has coincided with escalating health care costs. The authors suggest that this increase in CAM use warrants an evaluation of CAM therapies' effectiveness and health consequences to determine if the therapies can be used as true alternatives or only as supplements to conventional medical care. This study was funded in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS17003).

See "Trends in the use of complementary and alternative medicine in the United States: 2002-2007," by Dejun Su, Ph.D., and Lifeng Li, M.P.H., in the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, 22(1), pp. 296-310, 2011.

Current as of September 2011
Internet Citation: Rising health care costs may have spurred more individuals to use complementary and alternative medicine: Research Activities, September 2011, No. 373. September 2011. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/news/newsletters/research-activities/sep11/0911RA16.html