As more HIV-infected patients turn to complementary and alternative medicine, researchers have set out to determine the prevalence and factors associated with such use.
In this study, researchers evaluated CAM use among nearly 3,000 patients enrolled in the HIV Cost and Services Utilization Study. Using this sample of patients who received conventional HIV care, researchers determined demographic and clinical characteristics of people with HIV. Approximately six months later, the use of CAM was determined during a follow-up survey..
Researchers used data from interviews and surveys to determine the prevalence of CAM use, CAM use with potential for adverse effects, and CAM use as a substitute for conventional HIV therapy.
Results show 53 percent of patients reported using at least one type of CAM during the course of the study. The four most commonly used methods were relaxation, spiritual healing, self-help and herbal medicine. More than one-fourth of the patients used CAM with the potential for side effects and 3 percent reported using CAM in lieu of conventional HIV therapy. More than one-half of the patients using CAM had not discussed it with their health care providers.
Findings from the study show HIV-infected patients who desired medical information and involvement in medical decision-making were most likely to use CAM. Researchers suggest a need for a health care setting that encourages open discussion between health care providers and patients. They say, "Improved physician understanding about patients' need for control over their own health care and the benefits and risks of CAM in HIV care may open channels of communication."
Researchers conclude that with one quarter of HIV-infected patients using CAM at the risk of potential side affects, physicians should openly ask their patients about such use. They suggest displaying a nonjudgmental attitude toward CAM may encourage patients to accurately report their use, thereby preventing unnecessary adverse effects.