The use of complementary and alternative medicines by people with chronic disease is an area of health care that is poorly understood. A new research project examines the challenges and benefits of this growing form of self-treatment.
Australian Research Centre in Complementary and Integrative Medicine
Australian Research Council Professorial Future Fellowship
‘Covert’ self-care using complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) is the focus of a new research project being run out of the Australian Research Centre in Complementary and Integrative Medicine (ARCCIM) at UTS.
Led by ARCCIM Director Professor Jon Adams, the project seeks to understand the use of complementary medicines and therapies by older Australians who are living with chronic disease.
“We currently know very little empirically about how people self-treat using complementary medicines, but we do know that the vast majority of this health seeking doesn’t necessarily involve any input from health professionals,” says Adams.
“As a result, a lot of this self-treatment is completely divorced from anything patients are getting in hospital or the health care system. Doctors tend not to ask and patients tend not to offer information around complementary medicine.”
The project will look at CAM use in older Australians, with a focus on three demographic groups living with common chronic illnesses: culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) adults with dementia, Indigenous adults with cancer, and non-Indigenous adults with hypertension.
The challenge of the research is to identify the sorts of complementary medicines and practices that people in these populations are using and to provide an evidence base for the risks and benefits that go along with that use.
“We know that people with chronic illnesses, particularly with co-morbidities, are more likely than people without to be using complementary medicine,” Adams says.
“It’s not about curing these chronic conditions; it’s about developing an evidence base to support safe, effective care that takes into account all that older adults take or do for their health and wellbeing.”
The project is the first of its kind in Australia, and emphasises the growing use of CAM within the Australian public. Despite this growth, some conventional health practitioners are quick to dismiss CAM as being of little importance to broader patient care. Adams’ research will provide the first empirical data around CAM self-care to inform all stakeholders.
“This is a critical public health program; it’s neither supporting nor opposing complementary medicine. We’re using health services and public health research methodology to shine a light on what people are doing and why they’re motivated to do it,” he says.
“If, through this project, I can provide findings that could then make even a small number of practitioners interested in enquiring with their patients with chronic illnesses about this topic, that would be the first line of success.”
The four-year project is being funded by a prestigious $1.2 million ARC Professorial Future Fellowship. This is the third consecutive Category 1 government-funded fellowship for Adams, who is one of Australia’s leading authorities in the field of critical complementary medicine research.
Photographer (cupping): Anna Zhu
Jon Adams image supplied