Alternative Medicine

Complementary/Alternative Medicine: The People’s Choice

I used to think of it as “the underground health economy.” For those of us who have been involved in complementary/ alternative medicine (CAM) for ten or more years, there was little surprise in David Eisenberg’s findings, published in the January 1993 New England Journal of Medicine, that a sizable portion of the public was using these therapies. The surprise was in just how large a portion this was – one in three, or 33% of the population — and the amount of money this group spent out-of-pocket: more than 10 billion dollars, exceeding what was spent on all hospital visits throughout the country.

Eisenberg’s paper unleashed a torrent of reaction. This was one large market! The alternative side beamed and glowed – and grew. Mainstream health professionals and physicians who had long been in the alternative closet came out in droves, now that there seemed to be a demand. “Alternative Medicine” conferences were organized, and journals were born, such as Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, spearheaded by Larry Dossey, a physician who had been paying attention to these issues and writing books on them since at least the early ‘80s.