With many complementary and alternative health care approaches not being regulated, it is important for people to know how to make informed consumer choices. In order to make informed choices consumers need to critically analyse complementary and alternative health care approaches. They do this by seeking answers to the following questions:
How do you know who to believe?
To determine who to believe there are a range of things a person should look for, these include: qualifications, registration, regulations and research. There is lots of readily accessible information on the internet about complementary and alternative health care. This information needs to be sifted in order to find credible sources and reliable information. Government websites can be helpful and provide some information on complementary and alternative health care, however, currently most of the information is limited and largely influenced by western medicine.
A better way to source information is to seek information that comes from academic journal articles or academic professionals who are trained in the areas of question, or similar fields. Academic journals are records of research written in the academic area, often peer reviewed and are the main sources of evidence used at university and college levels. Academic professionals include: professors, associate professors, and doctors (PhD, not medical practitioners). These people often write the academic journal articles and teach those who train in the various complementary and alternative health care fields. Websites that have edu in their domain are educational institutions registered with the government. So, www.uts.edu.au is a reliable source of information, especially on traditional Chinese medicine as the University employs qualified academics, such as Associate Professor Christopher Zaslawski.
When seeking information from people to make informed consumer choices, it is important to ensure they are people with experience and qualifications related to or in the field of question. Ask the person questions such as: what qualifications do you have? Are your registered? What evidence is there for this treatment? Are there side effect? If so are they common? Will treatment affect other treatments I might or am receiving? Etc The person should have reasonable qualifications for their field, the higher the qualification the more reliable their information (eg bachelor over a certificate). The person should be registered with an appropriate body and be able to provide detailed information on the evidence, side effects and interactions with other treatments. If they cannot, then they are not reliable sources. It is also important when seeking information to make a choice about complementary and alternative health care that multiple people are sought to provide information.
What do you need to help you make informed decisions?
In order to make an informed consumer choices you should gather a reasonable amount of relevant information from reliable sources. Information should include: the philosophy behind the treatment, the process of the treatment, possible side effects of the treatment, qualifications needed to provide treatment, and academic evidence for the effectiveness of the treatment. This information can be sourced from registration bodies or professional associations, or the complementary and alternative health practitioner. You should also consult your GP for any advice they may have.
See http://www.racgp.org.au/afp/200507/200507kotsirilos.pdf and http://www.racgp.org.au/afpbackissues/2005/200508/200508kotsirilos.pdf for the Australian Family Physician publications on complementary and alternative health care.