Alternative medicine: Questions to ask

Last updated: Friday, August 10, 2018

Most clinical problems involving alternative medicine are concerned with Adverse reactions or Interactions, so follow the links to see the questioning to use in these situations. There are also some general questions to ask when faced with any clinical problem.

However, in addition to investigating the patient's drug history and medical history, there are four broad questions concerned with alternative medicine that you might find helpful in practice:

  • What is the alternative medicine and what does it contain? Brand names often tell you little, and many of these products have multiple ingredients. It's helpful to see the original container so you can read the full list of ingredients and the recommended dose. 
  • Where did they get it from? Is it a familiar OTC brand bought from a reputable outlet, or a poorly labelled powder sourced from an unfamiliar website? Was it prescribed for them, and if so by whom?
  • Why does the patient want to take it? Has the patient self-diagnosed their medical problem, and would it be helpful for them to see a doctor about it? You may be able to recommend a safer or more evidence-based alternative. 
  • Does the patient or healthcare professional have a particular safety concern? For example, are there symptoms that may be a side effect, or uncertainty about an interaction?

Generally, you will often be trying to answer the question: 'What are the potential risks posed to the patient taking into account their past medical history and concomitant medicines?'