Complementary Medicine (CM) in Practice

Complementary Medicine (CM)

What we know

Complementary medicine refers to medicines and therapies that are used alongside conventional medicine. Alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medical treatment. These may be brought together under the title of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). The use of CM in Australia is considerable and increasing. Not all people discuss their use of CM with their doctor or health care professional. Evidence about the use, benefits, risks, safety and effectiveness of complementary medicine for older people receiving palliative care is lacking.

What can I do?

Doctors, nurse practitioners, pharmacists and allied health professionals can use the trustworthy information and resources to guide discussions with patients about CM, in NHMRC Resource for Clinicians.

To be aware of the effectiveness, benefits, risks and safety of treatment choices, ask people in your care whether they are using any complementary or alternative medicine, particularly prescribed or ‘over the counter’ (OTC) herbal and vitamin supplements.

Check how CMs may affect prescription and over-the-counter medicines.

Ensure that information about the complementary medicine that an older person is using is correctly documented.

Be aware that although the evidence base for these therapies is lacking, the use is a very personal choice. Have an open and non-judgemental dialogue.

What can my organisation do?

Conduct an audit/survey of complementary medicines used by older people under the care of the organisation. Seek advice from a doctor or consultant pharmacist as to the effectiveness or risks associated with their use.

Education sessions offered by a consultant pharmacist can help staff understand the difference between complementary and alternative therapies as well as what the current evidence is regarding its use as adjuvant therapy along with conventional medical therapies.

If appropriate, provide staff with the opportunity to learn some basic skills in massage, and/or engage with physiotherapists to improve movement and provide suitable physical exercise.

Page updated 12 July 2021