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Patients and their health care providers need to talk openly about all of their health care practices. This includes the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) at the National Institutes of Health has launched an educational campaign—Time to Talk—to encourage the discussion of CAM use. As the Federal Government's lead agency for scientific research on CAM, NCCAM is committed to providing evidence-based CAM information to help health professionals and the public make health care decisions.


Why Talk?

To ensure safe, coordinated care among all conventional and CAM therapies, it's time to talk. Talking not only allows fully integrated care, but it also minimizes risks of interactions with a patient's conventional treatments. When patients tell their providers about their CAM use, they can better stay in control and more effectively manage their health. When providers ask their patients about CAM use, they can ensure that they are fully informed and can help patients make wise health care decisions.

In a nationwide Government survey, nearly 50 percent of all adults age 18 or older reported using some form of CAM (excluding prayer) during their lifetime, and 36 percent of adults reported CAM use in the past year; people age 50 to 59 were among the most likely to report using CAM.1 However, in a survey of people age 50 or older, less than one-third of those who reported using CAM have discussed it with their physicians.2

CAM is defined as a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine. CAM includes products and practices such as herbal supplements, meditation, chiropractic care, and acupuncture.

NCCAM and AARP Survey: NCCAM and AARP recently partnered on a consumer telephone survey to measure and understand communication practices between patients age 50 or older and their physicians. The survey confirms that patients and physicians often do not discuss the use of CAM. The primary reasons are that patients do not know that they should tell their providers about their CAM use, and physicians do not ask their patients about CAM use.


What Else Did the Survey Find?


Communication With Providers About CAM Use

Topics Discussed With Providers

Reasons for Using CAM

Use of Conventional Medicine

Demographic Differences


Tips to Start Talking

Patient Tips for Discussing CAM With Providers

Provider Tips for Discussing CAM With Patients

Free Toolkit for Health Care Providers

Health care providers may order a FREE toolkit that includes posters, tip sheets, patient wallet cards, and other resource information to help encourage discussion of CAM use. To order a free toolkit, call the NCCAM Clearinghouse at 1-888-644-6226. For more information on Time to Talk or to read the full NCCAM/AARP report on CAM use communication, please visit nccam.nih.gov/timetotalk/.



1 Barnes PM, Powell-Griner E, McFann K, Nahin RL. Complementary and alternative medicine use among adults: United States, 2002. CDC Advance Data Report #343. 2004.

2 AARP, NCCAM. Complementary and Alternative Medicine: What People 50 and Older Are Using and Discussing with Their Physicians. Consumer Survey Report; January 18, 2007.


CAM Resources from the National Institutes of Health

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine:
Toll-free clearinghouse: 1-888-644-6226

Medline Plus:

NIH Office of Dietary Supplements:

NCI Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine:


This publication is not copyrighted and is in the public domain. Duplication is encouraged.

NCCAM has provided this material for your information. It is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your primary health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with your health care provider. The mention of any product, service, or therapy is not an endorsement by NCCAM.

NCCAM Publication No. D381