How to Talk to Your Doctor About Alternative Medicine

Doctor Speak to Patient

According to a 2010 AARP survey, only 33 percent of patients asked a health care provider to explain their alternative medicine options. Of the patients who actually used alternative therapies, only 58 percent of patients had told their physician about the treatments.

Patients were twice as likely to initiate the conversation as their doctor. However, regardless of who brings up the topic, the discussion is an important one to have.

Doctors need to know which therapies you are pursuing to prevent negative drug interactions. They can steer you away from dangerous or ineffective therapies and help you decide on a plan that is best for your unique situation. They can also help point you to reputable alternative medicine providers in your area (or even in your hospital’s cancer care program).

The following tips can help your conversation go as smoothly as possible:

  • Make a list of questions beforehand. In the days or weeks before your consultation, decide what you want to get out of the appointment. Do you want advice on whether or not to pursue alternative therapies? Do you want information on the side effects or potential benefits of specific therapies? Prepare your questions well in advance and do not leave your appointment until they are all answered.
  • Be thorough when giving a treatment history. Even if you are having this conversation with a doctor who has treated you for years, be extremely thorough with your treatment history. List all of the medications you are currently taking, including vitamins and dietary supplements. This will help your doctor steer you away from other treatments that could cause a negative interaction.
  • Do your own research. The best way to get your doctor on board with an alternative medicine program is to be armed with evidence. Look for scientific studies that show the efficacy of herbal supplements or alternative procedures you are interested in. Find out the characteristics that make a patient a good candidate for a specific medicine. Research potential side effects and decide ahead of time if (and how) you can deal with them.
  • But be receptive to their expert opinion. There’s lots of contrasting research on alternative medicine. Some studies are more reliable than others. Your doctor has years of experience in distinguishing between accurate and misleading research, and in turn, can provide a valid opinion when a therapy may not be right for you.
  • If your primary oncologist isn’t on board, find a specialist who is. As more evidence emerges in support of alternative medicine, more oncologists are embracing certain research-backed holistic treatments. However, some doctors may still consider alternative medicine “junk science.” If your oncologist is not willing to incorporate alternative medicine into your treatment plan, consider looking for a licensed specialist who will. (Please note that oncologists may steer you away from certain alternative treatments because they are indeed scams. This does not mean you should look for a doctor who is willing to endorse those medicines.)

If you have talked to your doctor about complementary and alternative medicine, how did it go? What did you do to make the appointment a success? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook.

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After graduating with an English degree from Southeastern University in 2010, Faith Franz came on board as a health and wellness writer for The Mesothelioma Center.

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