Complementary and alternative medicine use in Australia: a national population-based study

Zhang, A 2006, Complementary and alternative medicine use in Australia: a national population-based study, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Health Sciences, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Complementary and alternative medicine use in Australia: a national population-based study
Author(s) Zhang, A
Year 2006
Abstract The use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) has been increasing steadily over the last decades around the world. Although there has been no national population-based study on CAM use in Australia, a number of regional studies have indicated the consistent trend of increasing CAM use. This thesis presents findings of a series of systematic literature reviews of CAM usage internationally and in Australia, which provided the basis for the planning of a national population-based study. The thesis also presents detailed analyses of findings of this Australian CAM usage study based on a national representative sample.

The population-based survey employed a random digit dialling (RDD) sampling method and interviews were carried out using computer-assisted telephone interviews (CATI) for data collection. A sample size of 1,067 participants was calculated and allocated to all Australian states/territories in proportion to Census data. National quotas for age and gender were applied to enhance the representativeness of the study populations. After a pilot study, the major survey was conducted between May and June 2005. Comparison of respondents’ demographic statistics with the Australian Census data confirmed the representativeness of the study sample.

The prevalence of overall CAM use in Australia is considerably higher than estimated in previously regional studies. Over two thirds (68.9%) of participants had used at least one of the 17 CAM therapies in the previous 12 months. Of these CAM users, 64.0% had visited a CAM practitioner, that is, 44.1% of the total survey participants. The high prevalence of CAM may be partially explained by regional (state) variations. Overall, the state of New South Wales had the highest CAM use (72.1%), closely followed by Queensland (71.0 %) and Victoria (69.8%), with South Australia being the lowest of prevalence (60.8%). Significant regional differences were found for specific forms of CAM therapies.

The estimated number of visits to CAM practitioners by adult Australians in the 12 months period was comparable to the estimated number of visits to medical doctors. The annual “out of pocket” expenditure on CAM, nationally, was estimated as A$4.13 billion. Consistent with the existing literature, the most common characteristics of CAM users were likely to be younger (aged from 18 to 34), female, employed, well educated, have private health insurance cover and have higher than average incomes. Additional information was sought about four forms of CAM, which in Australia are subject to statutory regulation in one or more states: Chinese herbal medicine, acupuncture, chiropractic and osteopathy.

In summary, this first national CAM survey in Australia gathered critical data concerning the usage of CAM, investigated potential regional differences and estimated expenditure associated with these therapies. It also suggested that while the concurrent use of Western medicine and CAM was common, the communication among the different health-care professions and the consumers had been grossly inadequate. These findings have a number of implications such as the needs of product and practitioner regulation, economic impact on users, actions required from health insurance companies and related government agencies as well as research and education programs.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Health Sciences
Keyword(s) Alternative medicine -- Australia
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