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Alternative and emerging therapies and the role of CPSA

August Messenger 2019, Council, From the Registrar, Messenger, Professionalism & Standards | Posted August 8, 2019
Research conducted by the Fraser Institute shows that Canadians’ attitudes towards complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) have changed a lot over the past 20 years. According to their 2017 report, a 2016 survey found 79 per cent of Canadians reported using at least one of these therapies sometime in their lives. Most interestingly, the majority of people who used CAM in the 12 months before the 2016 survey chose to do so for “wellness”-to prevent future illness. Similarly, there seems to be a greater openness in our profession to emerging therapies-treatments of which we don’t yet fully understand or appreciate all the potential impacts.

What’s CPSA’s stance on CAM and emerging therapies?

Any physician offering treatments with limited scientific evidence to support them should be certain of the patient’s diagnosis and must also offer conventional treatment options. They should also be clear with the patient about the uncertainties, risks and potential side-effects of a non-conventional therapy. In many ways, this is not dissimilar to what we would expect from any physician offering any treatment-good reasoning, clear communication, setting expectations with the patient and ensuring informed consent.

These are the current expectations of Alberta’s physicians and represent what we know to be good medicine. But do we need additional guidance as CAM and emerging therapies are being used and requested more and more frequently?

How many physicians have patients on their roster looking to supplement or replace their treatment plan with complementary, alternative or emerging therapies? How many physicians offer CAM or emerging therapies as part of their routine practice? Should we, as physicians, offer any treatments with limited scientific research that support their effectiveness? Which therapies are classified as CAM and which are simply emerging? Is there truly a distinction when it comes to how we approach them?

All valid questions. As more and more people rely on these treatments, it’s time for Alberta’s physicians to think about how we want to approach these therapies in a future with rapid medical, scientific and societal developments.

Starting in 2020, we’ll be asking you for help, insight and feedback on what CPSA should be doing with regard to CAM and emerging therapies. You’ll see us asking new questions about these practices in the Renewal Information Form (RIF) and we’ll look to you for leadership as we revisit the CPSA standard of practice on Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

We welcome your comments and feedback on the future of CAM, emerging therapies and CPSA’s role in regulating them.

Dr. John Bradley                              Dr. Scott McLeod
CPSA Council President                 CPSA Registrar

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