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Talk about complementary medicine, doctors urged

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Many patients may be at risk of unintended consequences and adverse drug reactions because they have not disclosed that they are using a complementary therapy or medicine, the National Health and Medical Research Council has warned.

The NHMRC said more than two-thirds of Australians use complementary medicine, spending around $4 billion a year on such treatment, often without their GP being aware.

The Council has produced a guide for GPs, nurses and other clinicians to help them broach the topic with patients, discuss evidence and effectiveness, and consider potential risks.

The guide, Talking with your patients about Complementary Medicine (http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines/publications/cam001), reported the results of a 2008 survey which found that only half of patients using complementary medicine discussed this with their doctor, often because their doctor had not asked them about it.

The NHMRC said it was important for doctors to have a full understanding of their patients’ health practices, and to achieve this it was necessary to initiate discussions about complementary medicines.

The guide provides tips on how to begin such a conversation, and how to broach potentially sensitive and complicated discussions about evidence, efficacy and potential risks.

Adrian Rollins