Selecting a health care practitioner — of conventional1 or complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) — is an important decision and can be key to ensuring that you are receiving the best health care. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) has developed this fact sheet to answer frequently asked questions about selecting a CAM practitioner, such as issues to consider when making your decision and important questions to ask the practitioner you select.
- If you are seeking a CAM practitioner, speak with your primary health care provider(s) regarding the therapy in which you are interested. Ask if they have a recommendation for the type of CAM practitioner you are seeking.
- NCCAM does not provide CAM therapies or referrals to practitioners.
- Make a list of CAM practitioners and gather information about each before making your first visit. Ask basic questions about their credentials and practice. Where did they receive their training? What licenses or certifications do they have? How much will the treatment cost?
- Check with your insurer to see if the cost of therapy will be covered.
- After you select a practitioner, make a list of questions to ask at your first visit. You may want to bring a friend or family member who can help you ask questions and note answers.
- Come to the first visit prepared to answer questions about your health history, including injuries, surgeries, and major illnesses, as well as prescription medicines, vitamins, and other supplements you may take.
- Assess your first visit and decide if the practitioner is right for you. Did you feel comfortable with the practitioner? Could the practitioner answer your questions? Did he respond to you in a way that satisfied you? Does the treatment plan seem reasonable and acceptable to you?
1. What is CAM?
CAM is a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine. Complementary medicine is used together with conventional medicine, and alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medicine. Some health care providers practice both CAM and conventional medicine. The list of what is considered to be CAM changes continually as those therapies that are proven to be safe and effective become adopted into conventional health care and as new approaches to health care emerge. For more about these terms, see the NCCAM fact sheet "What Is CAM?"
2. I am interested in a CAM therapy that involves treatment from a practitioner. How do I go about finding a practitioner?
Before selecting a CAM therapy or practitioner, talk with your primary health care provider(s). Tell them about the therapy you are considering and ask any questions you may have. They may know about the therapy and be able to advise you on its safety, use, and effectiveness, or possible interactions with medications. Here are some suggestions for finding a practitioner:
- Ask your doctor or other health professionals whether they have recommendations or are willing to make a referral.
- Contact a nearby hospital or a medical school and ask if they maintain a list of area CAM practitioners or could make a recommendation. Some regional medical centers may have CAM centers or CAM practitioners on staff.
- Ask if your therapy will be covered by insurance; for example, some insurers cover visits to a chiropractor. If the therapy will be covered, ask for a list of CAM practitioners who accept your insurance.
- Contact a professional organization for the type of practitioner you are seeking. Often, professional organizations have standards of practice, provide referrals to practitioners, have publications explaining the therapy (or therapies) that their members provide, and may offer information on the type of training needed and whether practitioners of a therapy must be licensed or certified in your state. Professional organizations can be located by searching the Internet or directories in libraries (ask the librarian). One directory is the Directory of Health Organizations Online (DIRLINE) compiled by the National Library of Medicine (dirline.nlm.nih.gov). It contains locations and descriptive information about a variety of health organizations, including CAM associations and organizations. You may find more than one member organization for some CAM professions; this may be because there are different "schools" of practice within the profession or for other reasons.
- Many states have regulatory agencies or licensing boards for certain types of practitioners. They may be able to provide you with information regarding practitioners in your area. Your state, county, or city health department may be able to refer you to such agencies or boards. Licensing, accreditation, and regulatory laws for CAM practices are becoming more common to help ensure that practitioners are competent and provide quality services.
3. Will insurance cover the cost of a CAM practitioner?
Few CAM therapies are covered by insurance, and the amount of coverage offered varies depending on the insurer. Before agreeing to a treatment that a CAM practitioner suggests, you should check with your insurer to see if they will cover any portion of the therapy's cost. If insurance does cover a portion of the cost, you will want to ask if the practitioner accepts your insurance or participates in your insurer's network. Even with insurance, you may be responsible for a percentage of the cost of therapy.
4. I have located the names of several practitioners. How do I select one?
Begin by contacting the practitioners on your list and gathering information.
- Ask what training or other qualifications the practitioners have. Ask about their education, additional training, licenses, and certifications. If you have contacted a professional organization, see if the practitioners' qualifications meet the standards for training and licensing for that profession.
- Ask if it is possible to have a brief consultation in person or by phone with the practitioners. This will give you a chance to speak with them directly. The consultation may or may not involve a charge.
- Ask if there are diseases/health conditions in which the practitioners specialize and how frequently they treat patients with problems similar to yours.
From the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. http://nccam.nih.gov.