Research reveals that 1 in 3 complementary medicine (CM)
users do not disclose their CM use to their medical providers, posing
significant direct and indirect risks of adverse effects and harm due to unsafe
concurrent use of CM and conventional medicine use.

The first international systematic review conducted by
researchers at the Australian Research Centre in Complementary and Integrative
Medicine provides an update on the prevalence and characteristics of disclosure
of CM use to medical providers since previous research conducted in 2003.

“This figure has hardly changed since the last review of the
topic 13 years ago. This is despite the fact that the authors of every paper
included in our review called for improved communication between doctors and
patients to facilitate better disclosure,” says lead author and PhD candidate Hope

The study found that disclosure of CM use to medical
providers is influenced by the providers’ communication style. Perceived
provider knowledge of CM use was reported to be a barrier to discussions about
CM use in clinical consultations.

When the actual response of the provider to disclosure of CM
use was explored by researchers, negative or discouraging responses were
reported by less than 20% of disclosers or were not reported at all. Positive
or encouraging responses to disclosure of CM use by a medical doctor were
reported by a substantial proportion of respondents and neutral responses from
medical providers were also common.

More than 67% of participants agreed that disclosure was

“Patient autonomy and preference are important features of
person-centred care to be considered by medical providers alongside safety and
treatment outcomes in their patient management,” the authors write.

As CM becomes more separate from mainstream health services,
disclosure is going to become more and more important for public safety.”

The researchers conclude that in the context of contemporary
person-centred healthcare models, discussions and subsequent disclosure of CM
use may be facilitated by direct inquiry about CM use by providers.

“This is a topic which should be treated with gravity,” the
researchers say. “Disclosure of CM use is central to wider patient management
and care in contemporary clinical settings, particularly for primary care
providers acting as gatekeeper in their patients’ care.”


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