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Astin JA. Why Patients Use Alternative Medicine: Results of a National Study. JAMA. 1998;279(19):1548–1553. doi:10.1001/jama.279.19.1548
From the Stanford Center for Research in Disease Prevention, Stanford University School of Medicine, Palo Alto, Calif.
Context.— Research both in the United States and abroad suggests that significant
numbers of people are involved with various forms of alternative medicine.
However, the reasons for such use are, at present, poorly understood.
Objective.— To investigate possible predictors of alternative health care use.
Methods.— Three primary hypotheses were tested. People seek out these alternatives
because (1) they are dissatisfied in some way with conventional treatment;
(2) they see alternative treatments as offering more personal autonomy and
control over health care decisions; and (3) the alternatives are seen as more
compatible with the patients' values, worldview, or beliefs regarding the
nature and meaning of health and illness. Additional predictor variables explored
included demographics and health status.
Design.— A written survey examining use of alternative health care, health status,
values, and attitudes toward conventional medicine. Multiple logistic regression
analyses were used in an effort to identify predictors of alternative health
Setting and Participants.— A total of 1035 individuals randomly selected from a panel who had agreed
to participate in mail surveys and who live throughout the United States.
Main Outcome Measure.— Use of alternative medicine within the previous year.
Results.— The response rate was 69%.The following variables emerged as predictors
of alternative health care use: more education (odds ratio [OR], 1.2; 95%
confidence interval [CI], 1.1-1.3); poorer health status (OR, 1.3; 95% CI,
1.1-1.5); a holistic orientation to health (OR, 1.4; 95% CI, 1.1-1.9); having
had a transformational experience that changed the person's worldview (OR,
1.8; 95% CI, 1.3-2.5); any of the following health problems: anxiety (OR,
3.1; 95% CI, 1.6-6.0); back problems (OR, 2.3; 95% CI, 1.7-3.2); chronic pain
(OR, 2.0; 95% CI, 1.1-3.5); urinary tract problems (OR, 2.2; 95% CI, 1.3-3.5);
and classification in a cultural group identifiable by their commitment to
environmentalism, commitment to feminism, and interest in spirituality and
personal growth psychology (OR, 2.0; 95% CI, 1.4-2.7). Dissatisfaction with
conventional medicine did not predict use of alternative medicine. Only 4.4%
of those surveyed reported relying primarily on alternative therapies.
Conclusion.— Along with being more educated and reporting poorer health status, the
majority of alternative medicine users appear to be doing so not so much as
a result of being dissatisfied with conventional medicine but largely because
they find these health care alternatives to be more congruent with their own
values, beliefs, and philosophical orientations toward health and life.
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