Mapping the Health Care Policy Landscape for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Professions Using Expert Panels and Literature Analysis

Published in: Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, 2016

Posted on on September 12, 2016

by Patricia M. Herman, Ian D. Coulter

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The purpose of this project was to examine the policy implications of politically defining complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) professions by their treatment modalities rather than by their full professional scope.


This study used a 2-stage exploratory grounded approach. In stage 1, we identified how CAM is represented (if considered as professions vs modalities) across a purposely sampled diverse set of policy topic domains using exemplars to describe and summarize each. In stage 2 we convened 2 stakeholder panels (12 CAM practitioners and 9 health policymaker representatives), and using the results of stage 1 as a starting point and framing mechanism, we engaged panelists in a discussion of how they each see the dichotomy and its impacts. Our discussion focused on 4 licensed CAM professions: acupuncture and Oriental medicine, chiropractic, naturopathic medicine, and massage.


Workforce policies affected where and how members of CAM professions could practice. Licensure affected whether a CAM profession was recognized in a state and which modalities were allowed. Complementary and alternative medicine research examined the effectiveness of procedures and modalities and only rarely the effectiveness of care from a particular profession. Treatment guidelines are based on research and also focus on procedures and modalities. Health plan reimbursement policies address which professions are covered and for which procedures/modalities and conditions.


The policy landscape related to CAM professions and modalities is broad, complex, and interrelated. Although health plan reimbursement tends to receive the majority of attention when CAM health care policy is discussed, it is clear, given the results of our study, that coverage policies cannot be addressed in isolation and that a wide range of stakeholders and social institutions will need to be involved.

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