Complementary & Alternative Medicine

College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta Are You Up to Standard?, Messenger Leave a Comment

In recent years, more patients have become interested in treatments not taught in medical school. As a physician, what should be your approach to these therapies? That’s the focus of the College’s Complementary & Alternative Medicine Standard of Practice. Here’s what you need to know.

What is complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)?

The College defines CAM as any therapy not supported by scientific studies published in orthodox medical literature. Without scientific evidence, there are unanswered questions about the safety and effectiveness of these therapies.

Checklist for providing CAM:

  • Obtain College approval first
  • Always perform an orthodox medical evaluation (history, exam and diagnostic tests) and establish an orthodox medical diagnosis
  • Discuss conventional medical treatment options with your patient
  • Explain to your patient the CAM therapy is unproven, and discuss safety and potential risks
  • Inform your patient of your professional experience with both the conventional treatment and the CAM therapy
  • Make sure your patient knows in advance the number of CAM treatments recommended, the time involved and the costs
  • Document all the above in the patient record

Examples include: chelation therapy, functional medicine, anti-aging medicine, Reiki, and so on.


Under the Health Professions Act, physicians may provide CAM as long as it doesn’t put patients at significant risk.

You cannot provide CAM if you feel it will endanger the patient’s health. You need to consider the risk inherent in the CAM therapy itself, as well as the risk of foregoing conventional treatment in favor of an unproven alternative.

If you wish to provide CAM in your practice, you must first obtain College approval.

The College must ensure you understand the CAM therapy and have sufficient training and experience to administer it safely. However, College approval to provide the therapy DOES NOT imply College endorsement of the therapy itself.

Download the application for approval from our website at www.cpsa.ab.ca, under Resources/Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

The patient must be fully informed. You must complete and document all of the following steps:

  • Perform an orthodox medical evaluation, including history, physical exam and appropriate diagnostic tests
  • Establish an orthodox medical diagnosis
  • Discuss conventional medical treatment options with the patient
  • Explain the unproven status of the CAM therapy, and discuss safety and potential risks
  • Inform the patient of your professional experience with the CAM therapy and conventional therapy
  • Inform the patient of the number of CAM treatments recommended, the time involved and the costs

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