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Assess the Safety and Effectiveness of the Therapy

Generally, safety means that the benefits outweigh the risks of a treatment or therapy. A safe product or practice is one that does no harm when used under defined conditions and as intended.

Effectiveness is the likelihood of benefit from a practice, treatment, or technology applied under typical conditions by the average practitioner for the typical patient.

Many people find that specific information about an alternative and complementary therapy’s safety and effectiveness may be less readily available than information about conventional medical treatments. Research on these therapies is ongoing, and continues to grow. 

You may want to ask a healthcare practitioner, whether a physician or a practitioner of complementary and alternative healthcare, about the safety and effectiveness of the therapy or treatment he or she uses. Tell the practitioner about any alternative or conventional treatments or therapies you may already be receiving, as this information may be used to consider the safety and effectiveness of the entire treatment plan. 

Be an informed health consumer and continue gathering information even after a practitioner has been selected. Ask the practitioner about specific new research that may support or not support the safety and effectiveness of the treatment or therapy. Ask about the advantages and disadvantages, risks, side effects, expected results, and length of treatment that you can expect.

Speak with people who have undergone the treatment, preferably both those who were treated recently and those treated in the past. Optimally, find people with the same health condition that you have and who have received the treatment.

Remember that patient testimonials used alone do not adequately assess the safety and effectiveness of an alternative therapy, and should not be the exclusive criterion for selecting a therapy. Controlled scientific trials usually provide the best information about a therapy’s effectiveness and should be sought whenever possible.

Costs are an important factor to consider as many complementary and alternative treatments are not currently reimbursed by health insurance. Many patients pay directly for these services. Ask your practitioner and your health insurer which treatments or therapies are reimbursable. 

Find out what several practitioners charge for the same treatment to better assess the appropriateness of costs. Regulatory agencies and professional associations also may provide cost information.

Most importantly, discuss all issues concerning treatments and therapies with your healthcare provider whether a physician or practitioner of complementary and alternative medicine. 

Competent healthcare management requires knowledge of both conventional and alternative therapies for the practitioner to have a complete picture of your treatment plan.

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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