A Multicenter Comparison of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) Discussions in Oncology Care: The Role of Time, Patient-Centeredness, and Practice Context

Jon Tilburt, Kathleen J. Yost, Heinz Josef Lenz, María Luisa Zúñiga, Thomas O'Byrne, Megan E. Branda, Aaron L. Leppin, Brittany Kimball, Cara Fernandez, Aminah Jatoi, Amelia Barwise, Ashok Kumbamu, Victor Montori, Barbara A. Koenig, Gail Geller, Susan Larson, Debra L. Roter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: Little is known about how complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is discussed in cancer care across varied settings in the U.S. Methods: In two practices affiliated with one academic medical center in southern California (SoCal), and one in the upper Midwest (UM), we audio-recorded patient-clinician interactions in medical oncology outpatient practices. We counted the frequency and duration of CAM-related conversations. We coded recordings using the Roter Interaction Analysis System. We used chi-square tests for bivariate analysis of categorical variables and generalized linear models for continuous variables to examine associations between dialogue characteristics, practice setting, and population characteristics with the occurrence of CAM discussion in each setting followed by multivariate models adjusting for clinician clustering. Results: Sixty-one clinicians and 529 patients participated. Sixty-two of 529 (12%) interactions included CAM discussions, with significantly more observed in the SoCal university practice than in the other settings. Visits that included CAM were on average 6 minutes longer, with CAM content lasting an average of 78 seconds. In bivariate tests of association, conversations containing CAM included more psychosocial statements from both clinicians and patients, higher patient-centeredness, more positive patient and clinician affect, and greater patient engagement. In a multivariable model including significant bivariate terms, conversations containing CAM were independently associated with higher patient-centeredness, slightly longer visits, and being at the SoCal university site. Conclusion: The frequency of CAM-related discussion in oncology varied substantially across sites. Visits that included CAM discussion were longer and more patient centered. Implications for Practice: The Institute of Medicine and the American Society of Clinical Oncology have called for more open discussions of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). But little is known about the role population characteristics and care contexts may play in the frequency and nature of those discussions. The present data characterizing actual conversations in practice complements a much larger literature based on patient and clinician self-report about CAM disclosure and use. It was found that CAM discussions in academic oncology visits varied significantly by practice context, that the majority were initiated by the patient, and that they may occur more when visit time exists for lifestyle, self-care, and psychosocial concerns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e1180-e1189
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019


  • Alternative medicine
  • Complementary medicine
  • Oncology
  • Patient-centered care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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