BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS. Researchers at the Harvard Medical School report that the use of alternative medicine in the United States is growing by leaps and bounds. Comparing data from nationally representative random household telephone surveys done in 1990 and 1997 they conclude that there has been an increase in the number of visits to alternative medicine practitioners of 47.3 per cent between 1990 and 1997. This translates into a total of 629 million visits in 1997; significantly more than the total number of visits to all American primary care physicians. Americans spent (out-of-pocket) at least $27 billion on alternative therapies in 1997, an expenditure comparable with the 1997 out-of-pocket expenditures for all American physician services. The most commonly used alternative therapies were chiropracty, massage, and relaxation therapy. However, the largest increase in use was found among such therapies as herbal medicine (380 per cent), energy healing, homeopathy, and the use of megavitamins (130 per cent) and folk remedies. Total sales of herbal remedies and megavitamins in 1997 increased to $5.1 billion and $3.3 billion respectively. The researchers estimate that one out of every two persons in the United States aged between 35 to 49 years used at least one alternative therapy in 1997. The usage rate was particularly high among well-educated people with an annual income in excess of $50,000. The researchers observe that most American medical schools now offer courses on alternative medicine, but conclude that there still is a large communications gap between patients and their family physician when it comes to alternative medicine. Less than 40 per cent of patients told their primary care physician that they were also using alternative therapies.
Eisenberg, David M., et al. Trends in alternative medicine use in the United States, 1990-1997. Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 280, November 11, 1998, pp. 1569-75