Last spring, the White House Commission for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy released a report detailing more than 100 recommendations regarding the implementation of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) into American health care.
At the time of its release, the report was hailed by alternative medicine advocates as "a ground plan" for ways to integrate complementary and alternative medicine approaches to health care into the system."1
Following on heels of that report, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), the federal government's leading agency for scientific research on alternative medicine, has announced the launch of a $1 million, two-year study on the implications of CAM use by the American public. The study, co-sponsored by 16 federal offices and agencies, will be conducted by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), and is intended to answer several questions regarding issues of regulation, coverage and policy toward complementary and alternative medicine. Lyla M. Hernandez, MPH, a senior official with IOM, will lead the study.
The Institute of Medicine is a component of the National Academies, a private, non-profit, non-governmental institution created by an act of Congress to supply the nation with objective information on matters of science and technology. The IOM's role as it relates to the National Academies is to examine policy matters regarding public health, and to provide timely, authoritative health information and advice to government, corporations and the public.
For the study, the IOM will assemble a panel of approximately 16 experts from a broad range of CAM and conventional aspects of health care. Over the next two years, the panel will review existing data on CAM use, hold workshops, invite speakers to address the panel, and conduct other activities necessary to achieve the following objectives:
Providing a comprehensive overview of the use of CAM therapies by the American public;
Identifying significant scientific and policy issues related to CAM research, regulation, integration, training and certification; and
Developing a framework to help guide decision-makers on these and related issues.
In addition, the IOM study will attempt to answer the following questions:
What are the methodological difficulties in evaluating some CAM therapies?
How are the different CAM professions regulated in the United States?
What is the current situation for coverage of CAM by insurers and other third parties?
What are the policy and regulatory issues regarding licensing and certifying CAM practitioners?
Why conduct such a study, and why put it in the Institute's hands? According to NCCAM Director Dr. Stephen Straus, because IOM is a nongovernmental organization, it was judged to be best suited to consider questions of CAM policy and research critically, yet impartially.
"Americans use CAM therapies in record numbers," Dr. Strauss elaborated. "The IOM's report will give us a clearer understanding of the scope of CAM use by Americans, as well as CAM's public health impact, and scientific and policy issues that will better inform our research decisions."2
In addition to NCCAM, the study is being cosponsored by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and numerous divisions within the National Institutes of Health. Given the typical bureaucracy that takes place between government agencies, especially when funding is involved, the fact that 17 separate organizations were able to agree on one common subject shows the increasingly important role complementary and alternative medicine are playing in American health care.
Recruitment of panel members is already underway. For more information on the study, contact the NCCAM's press office at (301) 496-7790.
HHS quietly releases White House commission report on alternative medicine. Reuters, March 25, 2002.