NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Alternative Medicine Growing In Popularity

November 11, 1998

Americans are increasingly turning to alternative medicine and its practitioners, such as chiropractors and acupuncturists, say Harvard University researchers. In the Journal of the American Medical Association, they report the results of nationally representative random household telephone surveys using comparable key questions conducted in 1991 and 1997. The questions concerned use of alternative medicine in 1990 and 1997, respectively.

  • In 1997, 46 percent of survey respondents said they had visited an alternative medicine practitioner, compared with 36 percent in the 1991 survey.
  • Forty-two percent said they had used at least one alternative therapy, compared with 34 percent in 1990.
  • Based on the survey, the researchers estimate Americans made 629 million visits to alternative medicine practitioners in 1997, compared with 386 million visits to primary care doctors.
  • Those most likely to seek alternative therapies are Baby Boomers-- people ages 30 to 50.

The study suggests little alternative medicine is covered by health plans. A conservative estimate of out-of-pocket expenditures for alternative medicine in 1997 is $27 billion, compared with $29 billion out-of-pocket for all U.S. physician services. However, in a recent study by Landmark Healthcare, two-thirds of respondents said the availability of alternative care was important in choosing a health plan.

Source: David M. Eisenberg, et al., "Trends in Alternative Medicine Use in the United States, 1990-1997," Journal of the American Medical Association, November 11, 1998, and Rita Rubin, "Nation Embracing Alternative Medicine," USA Today, November 11, 1998.


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