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Understanding how complementary and alternative medicine practitioners relate to and interpret evidence in clinical practice.


Joshua Sutherland is a graduate of the Endeavour College Nutritional Medicine Bachelor of Health Science degree. Joshua has since been accepted into the capstone Honours degree, where he is focusing his research on evidence-based practice (EBP) in complementary medicine (CM). Joshua has been guided in his research by Dr Matthew Leach and Dr Amie Steel, both of whom are world leaders in the area of EBP in CM research. Joshua excelled in his undergraduate public speaking endeavours, and comes from a 5-year career in film and television media production prior to his academic ventures.

Introduction: The prominence of evidence-based practice (EBP) has risen since it was first introduced in the mid-1990s. Recent years have seen an increase in research analysing EBP within complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), with studies revealing many barriers to EBP application. A deeper understanding of the way in which CAM practitioners engage with and interpret EBP is needed in order to develop supportive measures that work with, rather than in opposition to, CAM culture and philosophy.

Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with three practitioners from each of six primary Australian CAM professions, including massage therapy, chiropractic, homeopathy, naturopathy, osteopathy, and traditional Chinese medicine. Data were analysed using a modified grounded theory approach, using content analysis to identify thematic categories.

Results: A dominant theme that emerged was 'recognition of expertise'. Embedded within this was a belief that the EBP model did not cater for clinician expertise in highly individualistic patient-care scenarios. Hence, CAM practitioners expressed an understanding of EBP that was discordant with the conventional EBP model, with most practitioners believing EBP principles involved the use of published evidence alone.

Discussion/Conclusion: CAM practitioners appear to place themselves at odds with EBP. This maybe due to a lack of understanding that conventional EBP does in fact consider clinical expertise to play a fundamental role in clinical decision making. It is therefore proposed that EBP is being perceived as dogma rather than a set of guiding principles. Such misunderstanding may situate practitioners in opposition to the evolving EBP in the CAM paradigm, instead of being positioned as active pioneers in its evolution.

Mr Joshua Sutherland (1), Dr Matthew Leach (2), Dr Amie Steel (3,4)

(1) Endeavour College Of Natural Health, Adelaide, Australia, (2) University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia, (3) Endeavour College of Natural Health, Brisbane, Australia, (4) University of Technology Sydney

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Title Annotation:10th International Conference on Herbal Medicine
Author:Sutherland, Joshua; Leach, Matthew; Steel, Amie
Publication:Australian Journal of Herbal Medicine
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Mar 1, 2017
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