How to Talk to Your Primary Care Physician about Alternative Care

By Dr. Scott E. Rosenthal

In the U.S., drug companies spend about $3 billion each year on advertising to consumers. You can’t turn on a TV, go online or open a magazine without seeing a drug advertisement staring you in the face. Despite this massive figure, it pales in comparison to the amount of money that goes toward influencing doctors. In 2012, the pharmaceutical industry spent an estimated $24 billion directly marketing to health care professionals. The enormous advertising investment has paid big pharma huge dividends, with Americans spending $329.2 billion on prescription drugs in 2013. (1)

With such a lucrative market, one can reasonably question how the pharmaceutical industry influences those who prescribe their products, and the extent to which it has shaped the American health care environment—especially in light of the fact that less invasive, highly effective alternative care approaches are recommended infrequently or not at all.

Alternative healthcare (referred to as complementary and alternative medicine or CAM), in which chiropractic is in the forefront, is rapidly growing in use and popularity. A 2008 National Institutes of Health report states that, “In the United States, approximately 38 percent of adults (about 4 in 10) and approximately 12 percent of children (about 1 in 9) are using some form of CAM.” (2)

If you planning to receive alternative care and wish to discuss your decision with your primary care physician, this article will help by teaching you how to best communicate with your doctor.

Please note that doctors are people who have feelings and egos, too. Being mindful, gentle and respectful when communicating with your doctor can save a cherished and established relationship. Avoid being confrontational or putting him or her on the defensive. It is more about sharing your desire to understand all available options rather than disagreeing with a recommendation.

The first step is to express your interest in learning about different approaches to your problem, including alternative and natural care. Share that you would like to avoid or lessen medication use, if possible, and that you are willing to make changes and are open to alternative health care. End by saying, “I value your opinion, is it alright if we discuss this now?”

Below is a list of sample questions to ask your doctor in order to explore alternative care options:

  • “What alternative treatments have you seen work with other patients?”
  • “Have you had other patients make lifestyle changes that prevented the need for this medication?” “If so, what worked for them?”
  • “Do you have any personal experience with… supplements, exercising, chiropractic, acupuncture, dietary changes, etc.?”
  • “What would you change in your life if you were me?”
  • “If you were facing the same problem, would you try to avoid surgery and/or medication?” If so, “what would you do?”

Keep in mind that it is possible your doctor may not be familiar with alternative care. Some may even oppose any approach that steps outside of the typical medical box of tools. Hopefully, those doctors will at least respect the choices that you make for your health. At first, you may need to be patient and allow your experience with alternative care to help educate them. I have seen many doctors through the years change their view from this very scenario. Others who would not recommend care initially developed a better understanding and acceptance once they saw our mutual patients’ success with chiropractic. Now many of them refer patients. On occasion, I will have a patient ask me to recommend a new doctor for him or her who is open to alternative approaches.

Many people seek alternative care without the consent or knowledge of their other doctors. And that is perfectly fine. But I do feel the patient is best served in a team atmosphere. Unless the person requests otherwise, I send a report to each patient’s primary care doctor and am always open to talking to another doctor when needed.

With so many Americans seeking alternative modes of care, it’s likely that a friend or family member will recommend that you see their chiropractor, massage therapist, acupuncturist, or other provider at some point. By communicating in a thoughtful and respectful way, you can maintain a caring and open relationship with your primary care physician while exploring these other options. You may even be surprised to find them sitting in your chiropractor’s reception room one day!

  1. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/02/11/big-pharmaceutical-companies-are-spending-far-more-on-marketing-than-research/
  2. https://nccih.nih.gov/sites/nccam.nih.gov/files/camuse.pdf