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AARP Report: Older Americans Not Discussing Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use With Doctors

Interview with Former Deputy, Dr. Margaret Chesney (NIH Radio)

Audio File: 
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02:08 min

Sixty-nine percent of older Americans do not talk to their doctors about their use of complementary and alternative medicine, according to a new survey conducted by AARP and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.


Schmalfeldt: More and more folks aged 50 and older are using complementary and alternative medicine — such as herbal supplements, meditation and acupuncture — in their day to day lives. Yet 69 percent of these people do not talk to their doctors about such use, according to a new survey conducted by AARP and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. NCCAM Deputy Director, Dr. Margaret Chesney, explained why this is.

Chesney: Well, the primary reason that people are not telling their providers is that the providers don't ask. That's what 42 percent of the people have told us. Another main reason is that people don't realize that they should, and that it's really important for providers to know. Other reasons are, people said, “Gee, there wasn't enough time,” or they didn't think their doctor or provider would know about integrative medicine or complementary medicine. And actually there's a small number of people who said that they were afraid that their doctor would be dismissive or even say “I don't want you to do that.”

Schmalfeldt: Dr. Chesney said there needs to be an open dialogue between providers and patients — after all, the health care professional works for the patient and needs as much information as he or she can get on the patient in order to provide proper treatment.

Chesney: They really need to know what is happening in the lives of their patients — in every way. And a big part of that is what people are taking in terms of complementary and alternative medicines and herbal medicines, over the counter medicines — are people taking a lot of Nyquil, for example, can be a sign or indication of things. They need to ask and they need to know. And that's an important part of being able, then, to work as a partner with their patients. It really is a partnership. And to be able to advise patients on the best course of action to take for the patient's health.

Schmalfeldt: For more info on this survey, visit From the National Institutes of Health, I'm Bill Schmalfeldt in Bethesda, Maryland.

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This page last modified September 24, 2017