Consultations with Naturopaths and Western Herbalists: Prevalence of Use and Characteristics of Users in Australia

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Journal Article
Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 2019, 25 (2), pp. 181 - 188
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© 2019, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. Objectives: To report the prevalence of naturopathic and Western herbal medicine service utilization in Australia, and describe the characteristics of individuals who use these services. Design: This is a national cross-sectional study. Settings: Online survey platform. Subjects: Purposive convenience sampling was used to recruit 2025 adults who were matched to Australian population demographics by gender, age, and state of residence. Interventions: A survey instrument consisting of 50 items covering demographics, health service utilization, health status, health literacy, and medicine disclosure to complementary health care providers. Outcome measures: The prevalence, frequency, and cost of naturopathy and Western herbal medicine consultations and sociodemographic characteristics of users of naturopathic and Western herbalist services and associations between these factors. Results: The final data set included 2019 participants: 6.2% (n = 126) consulted a naturopath and 3.8% (n = 76) a Western herbalist. These health services were most commonly used to improve well-being. An average of AUD$102.67 and AUD$49.64 was spent per user on consultations with naturopaths and Western herbalists, respectively, in the previous year. The most prevalent users were those between 18 and 29 years of age (39.3%), in a relationship (51%), employed (70%), and held a bachelor degree or higher (40.5%). Some degree of financial difficulty was reported by 65.4% of users. Having a chronic illness (p < 0.01) and using both conventional and complementary medicines (p = 0.05) were both associated with using naturopathic or Western herbal medicine services. Less than 40% of participants disclosed their use of conventional medicines to Western herbalists. Conclusions: Naturopathy and Western herbal medicine services are used by a substantial number of Australian adults who also use conventional health services. Accordingly, research is needed to determine how these health professions can be better integrated into mainstream health care settings to improve patient-practitioner communication and safety related to the use of these health services.
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