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Complementary medicine in Australia

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA. A team of researchers from the University of Melbourne has released the results of a survey designed to probe the use and knowledge about complementary therapies among general practitioners in the state of Victoria. Nearly half of the doctors had considered practicing one or more complementary therapies and over 80 per cent had referred patients to practitioners of these therapies. Acupuncture, hypnosis, and meditation were the therapies found most acceptable and effective by the GPs and 34 per cent of them had actually taken training in meditation followed by acupuncture at 23 per cent, vitamin and mineral therapy at 23 per cent, hypnosis at 20 per cent, and herbal medicine at 12 per cent. The GPs expressed strong support for the idea that hypnosis, meditation, and chiropracty should be covered by the Australian Medicare system. They considered vitamin and mineral therapy, homeopathy, aromatherapy, reflexology, and herbal medicine to be the least effective of the complementary modalities covered in the survey.

Another survey involving 161 oncologists (cancer specialists) found that almost a quarter of them had considerable knowledge about the use of meditation, relaxation, visual imagery, antioxidant therapy, high-dose vitamin C therapy, and microwave/Tronado therapy in the treatment of cancer. Very few knew anything about cellular therapy, magnetotherapy, and psychic surgery. Most oncologists (69-82 per cent) thought that meditation, relaxation, and visual imagery would be helpful in both curative and palliative (symptom relief) treatment of cancer. Acupuncture and hypnotherapy were also deemed helpful whereas coffee enemas, diet therapy (Gerson/macrobiotic), Iscador/mistletoe therapy, ozone therapy, and psychic surgery were considered to be ineffective and often harmful. The oncologists often over-estimated their patients' use of complementary therapies. For example, only 0.5 per cent of cancer patients in a recent survey reported using aromatherapy while the oncologists estimated that 15 per cent used this therapy. The use of herbal therapies and shark cartilage was also vastly over-estimated at 45 per cent and 15 per cent respectively versus an actual use of 10 per cent and 4 per cent respectively.
Pirotta, Marie V., et al. Complementary therapies: have they become accepted in general practice? Medical Journal of Australia, Vol. 172, February 7, 2000, pp. 105-09
Newell, Sallie and Sanson-Fisher, Rob W. Australian oncologists' self-reported knowledge and attitudes about non-traditional therapies used by cancer patients. Medical Journal of Australia, Vol. 172, February 7, 2000, pp. 110-13
Lewith, George T. Complementary and alternative medicine: an educational, attitudinal and research challenge. Medical Journal of Australia, Vol. 172, February 7, 2000, pp. 102-03 (editorial)

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