Nurse and patient characteristics predict communication about complementary and alternative medicine

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The aim of this study was to identify nurse factors (eg, knowledge, practices, and clinical habits regarding complementary and alternative medicine [CAM] as well as demographic factors) and patient characteristics (eg, age, sex, and treatment status) associated with nurses' CAM inquiry and referral patterns.


Baseline data were collected with nurse/patient questionnaires about CAM use and knowledge as part of a multicenter CAM educational clinical trial. Frequencies and nested regression models were used to assess predictors of nurses' inquiries about and referral to CAM therapies.


Six hundred ninety-nine patients participated in the study. For patients, female sex (odds ratio [OR], 1.50; P = .019) and cancer recurrence (OR, 1.45; P = .05) were predictive of nurses' inquiries about and referral to CAM therapies. A total of 175 nurses with a mean age of 45 years and a mean experience of 20 years participated; 79% were staff nurses, and 11% were nurse practitioners. Fifty-three percent asked at least 1 of their last 5 patients about CAM use; 42% referred patients to CAM therapy. Nurses who reported being “somewhat comfortable” (OR, 2.70; P = .0001) or “very comfortable” (OR, 3.88; P < .0001) about discussing CAM, self-reported use of massage (OR, 2.20; P < .0001), and had formal CAM education (OR, 4.14; P = .0001) were more likely to ask about CAM use. Nurses who reported being “somewhat comfortable” (OR, 2.54; 95% confidence interval, 1.47-4.41; P = .0008) or “very comfortable” (OR, 7.46; P < .00001) and had formal CAM education (OR, 2.96; P < .0001) were also more likely to refer patients to CAM therapies.


Both patient and nurse characteristics were associated with discussions about CAM. Oncology institutions that prioritize evidence-based medicine should consider introducing CAM education to their nursing staff.

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