Medical care is vital for the survival of the citizens of any given country. Due to the existing cultural disparities among different communities, various treatment methods are acknowledged. However, the two primary treatments modalities are conventional medical care and complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Although less prevalent, CAM is highly beneficial because it endorses a holistic “whole body care” approach to treatment (Shirwaikar, Govindarajan, & Rawat, 2013). Unlike mainstream medicine, CAM can prevent physical and mental illnesses. Also, it enhances personalized care offered by a medical practitioner to a patient and mitigates the undesirable effects of comorbid disorders that arise from conventional medical care.
In spite of these benefits, however, the prevalence of CAM as a viable alternative to standard medical care is limited due to the lack of substantive scientific research. In essence, this lowers the credibility of CAM (Joos, Musselmann, & Szecsenyi, 2011). Notably, limited research in CAM is facilitated by financial incapability and undefined methodologies, which make application of randomized controls (RCTs) a formidable task. In addition to this, the fact that CAM variables are holistic – neither quantified nor defined – makes the practice unethical and potentially harmful to patients. Currently, many people are using CAM globally, with the U.S leading at 38% (Ventola, 2010). Therefore, CAM is preferable to orthodox medicine, because it is cheap and offers a more holistic approach to treating illnesses.
Statistics of Adult CAM Preference
The use of CAM is continuously increasing in many nations. The following statistics are based on the research published by Ventola (2010). The author concedes that approximately 40% of adults in the U.S. engage in the use of CAM. Moreover, 17.7% of this population admit to using CAM primarily through natural products. On the other hand, 12.7% prefer deep breathing, whereas 9.4% settle for meditation. 8.6% and 8.3% of this population choose chiropractic and osteopathic treatments and massage respectively. On the lower end, 3.6% have a preference for diet-based therapies, whereas 2.9% would rather use progressive relaxation techniques. Also, the research indicates that 2.2% and 1.8% of adults select guided imagery and homeopathic treatment as their favorite modes of CAM treatment.
Common Conditions and CAM Remedies
CAM has been known to manage the undesirable side effects of standard medicine. To begin with, CAM is used alongside radiotherapy to provide patients with optimal recovery options. According to Puataweepong, Sutheechet, and Ratanamongkol (2012), cancer treatment often results in suffering symptoms, which prompt patients to seek the soothing effects of CAM. For instance, radiotherapy leads to fatigue and loss of sleep. However, this can be reduced by CAM practices such as guided imagery that calms a patient and induces long-lasting sleep. On the other hand, radiotherapy may lead to cognitive behavioral deficiencies, which may be cured by CAM through Tai Chi or meditation. Puataweepong et al. (2012) add that homeopathic therapies may be used to reduce skin irritation caused as a result of the penetration of X-rays during radiotherapy. Therefore, CAM helps to reduce the suffering effects that may result from radiotherapy.
In addition to that, CAM is known to lessen the adverse side effects produced by chemotherapy. According to Puataweepong et al. (2012), chemotherapy may lead to adverse long-term and short-term effects such as nausea, vomiting, pain, fatigue, mood disturbance, sleeping difficulties, and cognitive impairment. Using CAM, nausea, and vomiting can be prevented through the use of acupuncture or acupressure to the P6 point (Joos et al., 2011). On the other hand, fatigue and loss of sleep are managed through guided imagery, whereas anxiety in cancer patients is controlled using reflexology. Apart from this, the use of cognitive interventions reduces the peripheral health locus of control. Therefore, CAM reduces the undesired effects of chemotherapy.
In conjunction with this, CAM mitigates the adverse effects of hormonal treatment. A report by Joos et al. (2011) indicates that hormonal therapies may result in psychological defects, sleep disorder, and negative vasomotor symptoms, as seen in women. Moreover, the hormonal treatment may cause hot flushes that can be treated through the use of acupuncture and electro-acupuncture (Puataweepong et al., 2012). Similarly, sleep disturbances are remedied with the help of a stress reduction program. Therefore, CAM reduces the adverse effects of hormonal treatment.
Benefits and Specific Attractive Characteristics of CAM
Benefits of CAM
Whole Body Care. One significant advantage of complementary medicine over orthodox treatment is that it endorses a broad approach that focuses on the well-being of a patient. In general, standard medication involves either physical or mental treatment using manufactured medicines or through therapy. On the other hand, complementary medicine uses methods such as tai chi and yoga, which remedy the physical, emotional, and spiritual health of an individual. According to Shirwaikar et al. (2013), many individuals are embracing CAM as a viable treatment option due to the element of the “whole body care,” which ensure their well-being in every area. Therefore, CAM aids in guaranteeing compound medical care for patients.
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Prevention. Additionally, CAM is becoming increasingly popular due to its ability to prevent illnesses. According to Shirwaikar et al. (2013), complementary treatment helps in preventing diseases, whereas mainstream medicine is predominant in intervening in the occurrence of an illness. As such, CAM involves taking a wide variety of botanicals and nutritional supplements, which prevent diseases by strengthening the immune system. In conjunction with this, activities such as Tai Chi and yoga, which are found in CAM, help to promote a good mental state among other individuals. However, the same cannot be said of orthodox treatment. While there might be drugs to cure all the health problems mentioned above, there are no vaccines to prevent the same. Therefore, CAM is useful because of its ability to prevent diseases, stress, and anxiety.
Personalized Care. Furthermore, patients under a CAM program get to enjoy individualized attention from their doctors at a cheaper cost. Joos et al. (2011) agree that hospitals, as in standard medical care, are often overcrowded and expensive, yet patients do not receive enough attention from their doctors due to the large numbers of sick people. As such, doctors in hospitals do not spend enough time observing each patient since they have other tasks to complete. In comparison, CAM is much cheaper. Apart from that, patients receive much attention from their medical practitioners, who constantly re-assure them of a quick recovery.
Attractive Characteristics of CAM
The use of CAM has increased tremendously across the globe. As such, this can be attributed to the presence of the Internet. Unlike in conventional medicine, the Internet readily provides information about CAM therapy. Moreover, the perception of CAM as a cheaper and safer alternative has attracted a multiple number of people (Ventola, 2010). As would be expected, increased contact with cultural factors and countercultural ideologies have convinced more users to engage in the practice. Apart from that, the doctrine of “whole body care” has appealed to more customers.
Use of CAM Worldwide
The statistics in this section were extracted from a research report by Harrison, Cooper, Relton, and Thomas (2012). Arguably, the use of CAM has gradually increased globally. A 2010 report by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) suggests that about 38% of adults and 12% of children in the United States engage in the use of CAM. Similarly, approximately 75% and 52% of South Koreans and Australians respectively use CAM. Moreover, the research by NCHS revealed that while the use of CAM was more prevalent in adults, it was primarily used by women. Moreover, adults with greater financial stability were reported to be among the most common users.
Arguably, CAM is prevalent among children and adolescents who have undesirable chronic health conditions. The research by NCHS suggests that 23.8% of children who use CAM have got six or more health conditions. Moreover, 23.9% of them use CAM because their parents were using it. Furthermore, the report concludes that 16.9% of children resort to CAM after their guardians fail to meet the financial demands of conventional health care services. As it was mentioned earlier, CAM involves the use of probiotics, herbs, and dietary supplements. Moreover, dietary supplements account for the larger proportion of CAM therapy used. On the other hand, chiropractic and osteopathic therapies explain the second and the third most popular CAM therapies among users.
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Roadmap of CAM in the Near Future
According to the analyses presented above, it can be concluded that the use of CAM is gradually increasing around the world due to its efficiency and relative cheapness. Owing to this, it is anticipated that the use of CAM will significantly increase in the future too. According to Bazzan, Zabrecky, Monti, and Newberg (2014), more research facilities and treatment centers are arranged to accommodate the growing demand for CAM. Moreover, CAM will also reduce the adverse side effects of conventional medicine in the future and promote a more comprehensive form of health care.
Different Categories of CAM Users and their Motivating Factors
CAM users can be classified in many ways. However, for the purpose of clarification, the paper shall focus on the gender aspect: men and women. Also, people can be classified based on their intended use of CAM. For instance, patients with chronic illnesses might seek CAM to relieve pain, whereas a healthy individual could engage in the same but for a different purpose of maintaining good health. In spite of this, however, the motivational factors for different categories of CAM users are universal.
For instance, the use of CAM is predetermined by the level of education and an individual’s income. As such, it is expected that the frequency of usage is high among those who went to college, because education makes people more knowledgeable and conscious of the surrounding phenomena (Harrison et al., 2012). Conversely, those with higher incomes are speculated to use CAM more, since they have got greater financial capabilities to buy the medication. Additionally, age impacts on the usage of CAM. As such, the elderly consume more CAM medication as compared to younger persons because of the frequent illnesses they face and the relatively fragile nature of their bodies.
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Possible Shortcomings of CAM
Limited Scientific Research
There has been little research conducted on the safety and effectiveness of CAM as therapeutic modes of treatment. Orthodox methods of treatment, on the other hand, have been achieved after being studied for years via intense scientific processes, which incorporate clinical trials with a large number of subjects. Resultantly, this has discouraged a significant number of people from using these medicines. Limited research in CAM can be attributed to financial, methodological, and ethical obstacles.
Financial Obstacles. CAM has undergone very little research in the recent past due to a large number of funds required. Apart from that, governments around the world are inclined toward funding projects supported with robust hypotheses. However, the fact that CAM has fragmentary evidence creates systemic bias, which makes the field to be ignored during funding. According to Shirwaikar et al. (2013), the NCCAM and the NIH have less opportunities of obtaining funding from the federal government as compared to research centers for standard medicine. Additionally, CAM modalities cannot be reinforced through intellectual property (IP) protection due to the lack of clearly defined premises. As a result, private investors are reluctant to invest their money in the research of CAM.
Methodological Obstacles. CAM lacks a well-refined infrastructure similar to that of orthodox medicine. As such, this is because of the numerous controversial theories used to explain the treatment method. As many proponents would say, the benefits of CAM are holistic to an individual. The word “holistic” in this case means that the therapeutic benefits of CAM are not quantifiable. Because of this, separating a holistic treatment modality for randomized controlled trials (RCT) becomes a daunting task.
Ethical Obstacles. As mentioned above, CAM provides a holistic treatment method for individuals. However, this contradicts the ethics of medicine. In particular, medical ethos ensures that a treatment method is termed properly, and it should be presented based on quantifiable and reproducible outcomes (Bazzan et al., 2014). Unfortunately, variables in CAM can neither be defined nor quantified. Consequently, this makes it almost impossible to compare CAM to orthodox medicine for research purposes. Due to the reasons mentioned above, there have been a limited number of CAM projects conducted. Moreover, there is lack of a quantifiable and reproducible infrastructure to define CAM. Most importantly, this has discouraged well-trained career medical scientists from venturing into the field.
Miscommunicated Marketing. For the most part, CAM products are advertised in the market as “natural.” However, Shirwaikar et al. (2013) note that there is a huge perceived difference between the words “natural” and “safe.” As such, not all remedies obtained from the natural environment are innocuous. On the contrary, some of the CAM products are potentially dangerous when combined with conventional medicine or when used exclusively. For instance, St. John’s Wort – a common remedy for depression – has been proven to inhibit the normal functioning of cancer drugs in the body.
On the other hand, herbs such as Kava Kava, which is used to treat stress and anxiety, have been shown to instigate liver damage (Joos et al., 2011). Apart from herbs, vitamins may also be detrimental to the optimal functioning of conventional medicine. For instance, a high intake of vitamin C by an individual may inhibit the operation of chemotherapy and radiology. In essence, CAM as an alternative for conventional modes of treatment needs to be thoroughly researched to outline its applications where they are deemed safe.
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How CAM Can Be Used to Offer Solutions to the Rising Cases of Peculiar Medical
CAM has proven to be highly prevalent as an alternative therapeutic modality in spite of the little evidence underpinning it. While conventional medicine may be particularly efficient in treating diagnosed diseases, patients often suffer from unidentified comorbidities. For instance, CAM may be used to treat comorbid disorders such as cardiovascular disease, chronic pain, gastrointestinal disorders, and mental health defects that arise from diabetes (Bazzan et al., 2014). Moreover, CAM through yoga may act as a long-term solution towards mitigating or even alleviating depression among adults.
Future of CAM in the Competitive Medical Field
Irrespective of the little evidence available, the prevalence of CAM as an alternative therapeutic modality has increased significantly. Therefore, it appears to be the only prudent option to incorporate CAM into conventional medicine to help with the treatment of patients. Most likely, nursing education programs are going to add curricula programs relating to CAM therapies. Moreover, nursing colleges intend to develop standards of practice alongside a core curriculum to ensure consistency of CAM practice. Apart from that, it is expected that governments will release funds to boost the research into CAM, which is conducted through RCTs. As such, this will increase the recommendations of CAM offered to patients by medical practitioners from conventional medical units.
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The use of CAM has been existent for a significant time span now. However, it has been dismissed most of the time because it lacks supporting evidence proving its effects. Moreover, governments and researchers have ignored it due to its sophisticated nature: unidentifiable and unquantifiable. Intrinsically, this is wrong since the benefits of CAM are visible despite the fact that there is no robust evidence to support it. Instead of criticizing and neglecting CAM, governments should adopt strategies aimed at furthering the research into the issue and establishing more concrete ideologies regarding this treatment method. Thus, if an idea conceived primarily out of cultural provisions could prove to be highly efficient, then scientific research would undoubtedly unearth even more significant benefits of CAM. Notably, the pro-CAM campaign can be achieved through the integration of mainstream medicine and CAM. Moreover, introducing CAM-related topics in nursing programs will provide medical practitioners with the knowledge of how to handle CAM patients.