Steps for Discussing Alternative Treatments With Your Patients

Steps for Discussing Alternative Treatments With Your Patients

Numerous doctors hold to the motto that science comprises the driving force behind a proper understanding of medicine. This attitude in the medical community ultimately leads patients to losing faith and trust in the modern medical community. The situation becomes one where doctors drive their own patients away with the “My way or the highway” approach to healthcare. Fortunately, numerous physicians see the folly of this approach and actively seek to learn more about the alternative medical treatments with which their patients are experimenting. Instead of dismissing a patients efforts as pure rubbish, a better approach will lead a physician to develop steps to effectively discuss the hazards as well as the legitimate results arrived at through the use of alternative treatments.

Step 1: Having an Open Mind

A major disconnect between doctors and patients arises when doctors’ beliefs about medicine clash with their patient’s beliefs about medicine. Doctors pride themselves as being professionals that belong to the scientific community. The idea that healing occurs beyond the realm of known scientific reasons will often be a sore point of contention. When a patient gets a more favorable result than their doctor, through the use of an alternative treatment, the typical professional reaction dismisses such a result as a placebo effect; however, to automatically jump to such an unwarranted conclusion tends to betray the very scientific basis on which doctors rest their credentials. Testable claims, not arbitrary assumption, comprises the true framework of science. A doctor should always remember that tangible results will speak far louder to the patient than the physician’s credentials; hence, an open mind becomes the by default basis for a healthy dialog with an unconventional patient.

Step 2: Acknowledge the Reality of Bad Science in the Medical Field

The term “science” simply fails to bear the weight it used to carry in the past. Patients go online and read scientific journals and medical blogs alike. It is easy for patients to access the latest information on debates like the questionable science behind certain popular medical theories which have since been proven wrong. The science behind such a theory actively reaps opposition from physicians themselves. Examples like that will fuel the fire behind why a patient will seek for alternative treatments. As a physician, you must be prepared to understand that patients using alternative medicine harbor legitimate concerns about Western medical practices raised by physicians themselves.

Step 3: The Secret to Opening a Patient up About Alternative Treatments.

If a physician wants a patient to talk about the alternative treatments they use, simply ask. In fact, let the patient know that their doctor is one of them. It really will not kill a doctor to try some supplements, massage therapy, or other form of complementary alternative medicine. Often, physicians who try some of these alternative approaches actually find they like the results they get, too. It is simply easier to get patients to talk about their experiences with alternative medicine, if they genuinely believe that their doctor has given these alternative approaches a fair shake.

Step 4: Delivering the Bad News

Once a patient has filled their doctor in on some of the alternative treatments they have tried, they will be in a far better position to help a patient see why certain alternatives do more harm than good. Make it a point to not judge the patient. Rather, commend them for taking an active interest in their health before explaining why a given alternative medical practice could be dangerous or noneffective. A medical records administrator with a Bachelor’s degree in Health Information Management says it’s important to record any and all alternative treatments a patient has undergone, as these could be relevant to future treatments.  Try to understand that many patients have seen the laundry list of side effects conventional drugs cause on television commercials and seek to avoid these outcomes with alternative approaches when possible. Their intellect drives them to avoid these outcomes. To ignore that reality means a physician does not have a grasp on why their patients are so reluctant to talk about alternative treatments in the first place.


The medical community built itself on a foundation of research and clinical testing. Despite this advantage, common diseases and epidemics still abound. Patients today exhibit an awareness of this unavoidable reality. Some even see it as a major failure on the part of physicians and the pharmaceutical companies alike. This attitude, by those who prefer complementary alternative medical treatments, will continue to persist until physicians do what is necessary to erase the skepticism and lacking trust that abounds towards the medical industry as a whole.

About the Author: Marlena Stoddard is a freelance writer who received her BA from the University of Georgia.


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