Health care workers in the U.S. use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), including massage therapy, at a rate greater than the general public’s, new research shows—a trend that could affect the integration of CAM therapies into allopathic care.

The research was conducted by investigators with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing with Allina Hospitals and Clinics in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Overall, 76 percent of health care workers reported having used at least one CAM therapy in the past year compared with 63 percent of the general population. The research also shows that 21.7 percent of health care workers and 16.6 percent of the general public receive “manipulative body therapies,” which includes massage.

The investigators also examined the reasons why health care workers used CAM in the past year. “The most common reason given for CAM use was general wellness (67.8 percent), while the least common reason was that traditional medical care was too expensive (3.9 percent),” the investigators wrote.

“Back, neck or joint pain were the most commonly reported health conditions for overall CAM use and for practitioner-based CAM use,” they added. “The most commonly reported condition for CAM self-treatment was anxiety.”

Data came from the 2007 Alternative Health Supplement of the National Health Interview Survey. The researchers examined a nationally representative sample of employed adults (n = 14,329) including a subsample employed in hospitals or ambulatory care settings (n = 1,280), and used multivariate logistic regression to estimate the odds of past year CAM use.

The investigators noted that personal use of CAM by health care workers “may be a principal determinant in the movement toward ‘integrative care’—the mainstreaming of CAM with allopathic medicine.

“Additionally, in the context of recent federal health reform changes, in 2014 when the health insurance exchanges begin, states may be more ready to license practitioners of various CAM therapies and thus require insurance coverage for CAM,” they continued. “The possibility of such institutionalized changes of CAM’s role in health care, as well the need for a healthy health are workforce, strongly suggests the need for further research to understand the reasons for health care workers’ CAM use as well as the possible benefits and risks of such use.”

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