Selecting a practitioner

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for complementary or alternative care

Selecting a practitioner for complementary or alternative care is like choosing any doctor or other health professional — look for someone you trust, who understands your personal care needs.

The person you choose depends on the type of care you want to experience, and your comfort level with nontraditional care.

Find the right care practitioner for you by following these guidelines.

Network practitioners

foot massageYour health insurance plan may cover complementary and alternative care. If your plan offers coverage or discounts, check to see if the practitioner you prefer accepts your plan. This may help reduce costs.

You can also search ChooseHealthy to find chiropractors, acupuncturists, massage therapists, and dieticians who offer discounted services for our members.

Check licenses and certifications

It is very important to get any type of health care from a licensed or certified practitioner. But how do you know whether someone is credentialed?

Look to your state's board for the type of care you are interested in. For example, you can see if a chiropractor is licensed and in good standing by contacting your State Board of Chiropractic Examiners.

Your state may or may not require credentials for each type of practitioner.

Ask questions

At your first visit you will give information about your health history, including injuries, surgeries, major illnesses, prescription medicines, vitamins, and other supplements you may take. (If the practitioner does not ask these questions, do not go forward with treatment.)

This is also your chance to ask questions. To get a better understanding of the treatment and what to expect from it, you may want to ask:

  • Could this therapy affect traditional treatments I'm receiving?
  • Is there scientific research behind using this treatment for my condition?
  • How long will I need treatment?
  • How much will the treatment cost?
  • What are the benefits and risks for my condition?
  • What are the side effects?
  • Will I need to buy any equipment or supplies?

After your visit

Think about your experience after your first visit, and ask yourself:

  • Did I feel comfortable with the practitioner?
  • Did I get answers to my questions?
  • Does the treatment plan seem reasonable?

Let your regular doctor know if you decide to continue complementary or alternative treatment. Your doctor will look for improvements in your health, and make sure the treatment is not making your condition worse or causing any new problems.

Traditional practitioners and complementary care

Many doctors and nurses use complementary care as part of their overall approach to medicine.

For example, a registered nurse-midwife might provide care in a hospital setting with access to traditional treatments and therapies, but offer the option to use non-drug pain relief or relaxation exercises.

Doctors of osteopathy (DO) may have a strong interest in alternative and complementary care. They may practice in a variety of specialties. Look for doctors with DO after their names to find an osteopathic physician.  

Most practitioners of alternative care also understand the value of conventional medicine, and know that it is important to work with your regular doctor's treatment plan. Beware of a practitioner who is critical of the traditional care you have been receiving, or suggests ending your traditional treatments. Only you and your doctor can make that decision. 

Source: Adapted from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Reviewed by: Paul Millea, MD, October, 2015

© 2015 Kaiser Permanente

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