Finding an alternative medicine practitioner can be a frustrating experience. Whether it’s the lack of practicing professionals in your area or the unfamiliarity of alternative medicine in general, there can be a lot to process when it comes to finding the best match for your condition.
Worst of all, the hunt for the perfect practitioner goes against the nature of alternative medicine, which emphasizes the healing properties connected between the mind and body. Don’t begin your search for a practitioner by adding unnecessary stress to your life!
In order to avoid any pitfalls, we’ll show you the steps to take to find the best doctor for your needs. If you’re looking to incorporate non-traditional therapies into your health and lifestyle, you’ve come to the right place.
What is Alternative Medicine?
Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) consists of a variety of different areas and practices that have been funneled under the “alternative” umbrella. Many of the therapies available have been applied and utilized far longer than western medicine.
CAM is mainly used in preventive care, but it’s also a popular way to treat chronic conditions such as hypertension, arthritis, depression and substance abuse.
Alternative medicine can refer to acupuncture, homeopathy, and naturopathy. It contains Oriental medicine, touch-based healing (such as massage, tai chi, yoga, and chiropractic medicine), dietary supplements, medical marijuana, herbal medicines, and specialized diets. Reiki, meditation and even hypnosis are considered alternative therapies. In the U.S. alone, alternative medicine is used by roughly 38% of all adults and 12% of children.
Finding your Practitioner
Finding a great CAM practitioner in your area can take time and research, but the benefits are certainly worth the effort. Here are our recommendations for finding a CAM practitioner as soon as possible.
Consult your doctor
It’s more than likely that your current primary care physician knows a variety of alternative medicine practitioners that operate in your area. Now that non-traditional therapies are becoming more mainstream, doctors are beginning to keep this information on hand for their patients.
Consult your Insurer
If your doctor doesn’t have any alternative sources available, it’s worth checking with your insurer to see if they provide coverage for alternative treatments. Not all insurance companies offer CAM, but lately, more insurers have been adopting alternative options, especially since the Affordable Care Act requires insurers to not discriminate against licensed medical providers.
The most common therapies covered by insurers are massage, chiropractic, and acupuncture.
Ask Hospitals or Medical Schools
Most hospitals now have alternative health departments with on-site practitioners. But even if the hospitals near you don’t, chances are someone will be able to direct you to a local practitioner. You can also ask medical schools for referrals—especially those that specialize in integrative medicine.
Ask Local Organizations
Not only are professional organizations a great way to learn about the practitioners in your area, but they also provide in-depth knowledge on the requirements and credentials that are necessary in order to begin practicing CAM as a profession. A quick search online will reveal the organizations in your area, or you can ask your doctor for more information.
Choosing your Practitioner
Once you’ve located the practitioners in your area that specialize in the therapies you wish to try, it’s time to choose the best one for your needs. The more information about a practitioner that’s available to you, the better. Research what you can, then pick up the phone (or meet them in person) and ask the following questions to help you determine whether they’re the right fit for you.
Training and Education
Where did you learn your craft and how long have you been practicing? This information is easy to cross-check with a professional organization, and it’s a great way to learn whether the practitioner knows their subject matter or not.
What health conditions do you specialize in? Primary care physicians and doctors tend to specialize in one form of traditional medicine. CAM practitioners, on the other hand, are often trained to treat a variety of ailments. This “jack-of-all-trades” approach is great in that one practitioner may cover all of your needs, but it helps if you find one that specializes in treating your condition.
Can you provide research that shows your treatments are effective? Given the time and costs of medical treatments, it’s always a good thing to know whether such treatments are proven effective. Because traditional medicine isn’t always well-funded, research may not be available for your condition, but your practitioner should be able to walk you through a bevy of effective treatments they have performed.
What will my first appointment be like? Unlike traditional medicine, visiting a CAM practitioner can be very different. It helps to know what your first experience will be like so that you know what to expect when you arrive for your appointment. Depending on your condition and the type of treatment involved, you may have to prepare accordingly.
When will I see results? Your practitioner will no doubt hedge on answering this question because everyone is unique and each condition responds to treatment according to its own time. However, they should be able to give you a rough estimate of how long it will take for you to see or feel noticeable results.
How much does your treatment cost? When considering the cost of an alternative medicine practitioner, keep in mind that many insurers don’t provide coverage for certain alternative therapies.
According to a 2007 National Health Interview Survey, 83 million adults spent $33.9 billion out-of-pocket on CAM therapies. Most CAM treatments are out-of-pocket expenditures, so budget accordingly and insist on knowing the full price of any treatment before committing.
Meeting your Practitioner
Once you’ve selected your practitioner, it’s time to book an appointment, meet your new practitioner and begin your treatments.
Meeting your new practitioner doesn’t mean everything is set in stone—you can always meet with other practitioners and continue to research your options. If you find out that your practitioner doesn’t treat your condition or uses methods you’d rather avoid, it’s okay to say no and seek help elsewhere.