Americans turn to alternative medicine

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Washington, DC - Americans spend a third as much on complementary and alternative medicine as they do on prescription drugs, racking up out-of-pocket expenses of $33.9 billion.

CAM includes products such as herbal supplements, meditation, chiropractic, and acupuncture. According to a newly-released government survey, in 2007 CAM accounted for around 1.5 percent of total healthcare expenditure and 11.2 percent of total out-of-pocket expenditure on healthcare in the United States.

Approximately 38 percent of adults used some form of CAM.

Of the $33.9 billion spent on CAM out-of-pocket, an estimated $22.0 billion was spent on self-care costs — CAM products, classes, and materials. The majority - $14.8 billion - went on nonvitamin, nonmineral, natural products such as fish oil, glucosamine and echinacea. US adults also spent approximately $11.9 billion on an estimated 354.2 million visits to CAM practitioners such as acupuncturists, chiropractors and massage therapists.

To put these figures in context, the $14.8 billion spent on nonvitamin, nonmineral, natural products is equivalent to approximately one-third of total out-of-pocket spending on prescription drugs, and the $11.9 billion spent on CAM practitioner visits is equivalent to approximately one-quarter of total out-of-pocket spending on physician visits.

The data comes from the 2007 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). The CAM component of the NHIS was provided by the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"With so many Americans using and spending money on CAM therapies, it is extremely important to know whether the products and practices they use are safe and effective," said Dr Josephine Briggs, director of NCCAM. "This underscores the importance of conducting rigorous research and providing evidence-based information on CAM so that healthcare providers and the public can make well-informed decisions."