Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use by Patients Visiting a Free Health Clinic: A Single-Site, Pilot Study

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Current Therapeutic Research


Background: The rate of use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) has been documented to fluctuate widely, can greatly impact medical outcomes, and can influence patients' adherence to conventional medicines. Health care providers should assess the prevalence of CAM use (primarily herbal medicine) in individual settings to most accurately provide appropriate patient care.

Objectives: THE AIM OF THIS STUDY WAS TO DETERMINE THE FOLLOWING: (1) differences in demographic characteristics between users and nonusers of CAM; (2) which CAM patients are using; (3) patients' sources of information concerning CAM; and (4) whether patients recall being asked about CAM use by their health care providers.

Methods: In this single-center, pilot study, a self-administered survey concerning CAM use was made available to persons seeking care at an inner-city free health clinic (Kansas City Free Health Clinic, Kansas City, Missouri). Completed surveys were scanned into a database, and descriptive analyses were performed.

Results: Three hundred eleven patients completed ≥1 question on the survey. Of those who reported race (n = 278), 168 (60.4%) were Caucasian/white, 73 (26.3%) were African American/black, and 24 (8.6%) were Hispanic/Latino. Of those who reported educational level (n = 287), 101 (35.2%) had some high school or were high school graduates or had a general equivalency development diploma, 102 (35.5%) had completed some college or vocational training, and 84 (29.3%) had completed college. Of those who reported personal annual income (n = 191), 107 (56.0%) reported up to US $15,000, and 54 (28.3%) reported >$15,000 to $30,000. A high rate of CAM use (past or present) was found among survey respondents (116/285 [40.7%]). No correlation was found between CAM use and any of the demographic characteristics studied. Of 98 patients reporting whether their CAM use was past or current, 64 (65.3%) were using CAM at the time of the survey. Friends and physicians were reported to be most supportive of CAM use (21/41 [51.2%] and 33/86 [38.4%] patients, respectively). The most common CAM products reported as being currently used were garlic and chamomile (both, 5 patients [7.1%]), and echinacea and ginseng (both, 3 patients [4.7%]).

Conclusion: This survey of patients using an inner-city free health clinic showed a high rate of CAM use, which could significantly impact patient outcomes.



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alternative, complementary, educational level, inner city, medically indigent