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Most Chronic Pain Patients Use Alternative Therapies, But Many Don’t Tell Their Doctors

More than half of chronic pain patients in a managed care setting reported using chiropractic care, acupuncture, or both, but many of these patients didn’t discuss this care with their primary care providers. These study results, published in the American Journal of Managed Care, suggest that better care coordination is needed among patients and physicians.

Researchers surveyed more than 6,000 patients who were Kaiser Permanente members from 2009-2011 and had three or more outpatient visits for chronic pain within 18 months. They found that 58 percent of these patients had used chiropractic care, acupuncture, or both.

The majority of patients shared information about these alternative therapies with their primary care provider; however, a good portion (35 percent of patients who had acupuncture only and 42 percent of patients who had chiropractic care only) didn’t talk to their providers about this care. Almost all of these patients said they would be happy to share this information if their provider asked.

“Our study confirms that most of our patients with chronic pain are seeking complementary treatments to supplement the care we provide in the primary care setting,” said Charles Elder, MD, MPH, lead author of the study and affiliate investigator at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research. “The problem is that too often, doctors don’t ask about this treatment, and patients don’t volunteer the information.”

Elder, who is also the physician lead for Kaiser Permanente’s complementary and alternative medicine program, added, “We want our patients to get better, so we need to ask them about the alternative and complementary approaches they are using. If we know what’s working and what’s not working, we can do a better job advising patients, and we may be able to recommend an approach they haven’t tried.”

This article was adapted from information provided by Kaiser Permanente.