What is CAM?
Defining complementary and alternative medicine can be difficult as different sources include different practices and treatments. Complementary and alternative medicine or CAM is a diverse group of medical practices that are not presently considered to be part of established medical treatment. While institutions like the National Institutes of Health have begun funding research and examining practices, CAM is still considered outside the realm of traditional medicine.
Who Practices CAM?
Conventional medicine is practiced by holders of M.D. (medical doctor) or D.O. (doctor of osteopathy) degrees and other allied health professionals, such as physical therapists, occupational therapists, and registered nurses. All will have attended a certain amount of education and attained a license to practice within their scope of training in a particular state.
The practice of CAM, on the other hand, is not regulated to the same extent as conventional medicine. For example, in some states naturopathic doctors attend qualified schools and obtain licensure. On the other hand, some naturopaths never attended a naturopathic medical school and are not licensed. While most states license chiropractors, acupuncturists, and massage therapists, not all states require licensing for all areas of CAM. While it is difficult to determine minimum competence in the absence of licensing requirements, you can look to see if a CAM practitioner is a member of a national organization and what the requirements of membership are.
What Is the Evidence Supporting CAM?
The scientific evidence supporting CAM therapies depends on the healthcare field. For example, while there is not a lot of evidence supporting CAM therapies in asthma, there is a plethora of evidence supporting CAM treatments in the treatment of cancer. However, organizations like the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine are asking key questions through well-designed scientific studies to determine how effective CAM therapies are for the conditions patients currently use them for and to determine if there are any safety risks.
Are complementary medicine and alternative medicine different from each other?
Yes, complementary medicine is used as an adjunct to conventional medical therapy while alternative medical treatments are used in lieu of traditional therapy.
- Complementary medicine is used together with conventional medicine. An example of a complementary therapy is using acupuncture to relieve nausea and other side effects while undergoing cancer treatment or to decrease pain following surgery.
- Alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medicine. An example of an alternative therapy is using St. John's Wort to treat depression instead of medications prescribed by a conventional doctor.
Source:National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). Consumer Information. Accessed February 20, 2009. What Is Complementary and Alternative Medicine?