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Keywords:

  • child health;
  • complementary and alternative medicine;
  • doctor patient communication

Aim:  To explore the relationship between conventional medicine and complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) with parents who use CAM, and to consider factors that may contribute to parent non-disclosure of CAM usage to their doctor.

Methods:  Thirty-three parents participated in one of seven focus groups. Transcripts were analysed using an iterative process of theme identification and testing against transcript data.

Results:  The participants believed they should trust their instincts as parents in caring for their child. It was important also to the participants that they understood why their child was ill, and a range of theories of health and illness were discussed. The use of CAM was attractive as it offered more options in health care than just relying on conventional medicine alone. The use of additional therapies was seen as a means to increase the likelihood that something would work. Many of the participants described bad experiences with doctors when they discussed CAM use previously so they had become more circumspect in mentioning it. The participants were most satisfied with medical care for their child when they felt the doctor respected their point of view and listened to them.

Conclusions:  Doctors caring for children and their families should expect that many parents are using CAM to increase health-care options. Enquires about CAM usage should be made in a non-judgemental and encouraging manner so parents feel comfortable in providing an honest answer. Advice to parents about CAM may need to be backed up with evidence to address differing parent understanding of illness.