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Examine the Practitioner's Expertise

Health consumers may want to take a close look into the background, qualifications, and competence of any potential healthcare practitioner, whether a physician or a practitioner of alternative and complementary healthcare.

First, contact a state or local regulatory agency with authority over practitioners who practice the therapy or treatment you seek. The practice of complementary and alternative medicine usually is not as regulated as the practice of conventional medicine. Licensing, accreditation, and regulatory laws, however, are increasingly being implemented. 

Local and state medical boards, other health regulatory boards or agencies, and consumer affairs departments provide information about a specific practitioner’s license, education, and accreditation, and whether there are any complaints lodged against the practitioner. Check to see if the practitioner is licensed to deliver the services the practitioner says he or she delivers. 

Appropriate state licensing of education and practice is the only way to ensure that the practitioner is competent and provides quality services. Most types of complementary and alternative practices have national organizations of practitioners that are familiar with legislation, state licensing, certification, or registration laws. 

Some organizations will direct medical consumers to the appropriate regulatory agencies in their state. These organizations also may provide referrals and information about specific practitioners. The organizations usually do not function as regulatory authorities, but promote the services of their members.

Second, talk with those who have had experience with this practitioner, both health practitioners and other patients. Find out about the confidence and competence of the practitioner in question, and whether there have ever been any complaints from patients.

Third, talk with the practitioner in person. Ask about the practitioner’s education, additional training, licenses, and certifications, both unconventional and conventional. Ask about the practitioner’s approach to treatment and patients. Find out how open the practitioner is to communicating with patients about technical aspects of methods, possible side effects, and potential problems. 

When selecting a healthcare practitioner, many medical consumers seek someone knowledgeable in a wide variety of disciplines. Look for a practitioner who is easy to talk to. You should feel comfortable asking questions. After you select a practitioner, the education process and dialogue between you and your practitioner should become an ongoing aspect of complementary healthcare.

last update: February 2009

This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. You should not use this material to diagnose or treat a health condition or disease without consulting with your healthcare provider.
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