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June 2018, Volume 68, Issue 6

KAP Study

Determinants of patients preferring Complementary and Alternative medicine attending public hospitals in Lahore, Pakistan

Abdullah Hussain  ( Services Institute of Medical Sciences )
Ayesha  ( Mayo Hospital )
Rohina Khizer Mufti  ( Allama Iqbal Medical College )
Maryam Shahid  ( Children Hospital, Lahore )
Muhammad Nabeel Hassan  ( Services Institute of Medical Sciences )
Tipu Sultan  ( Services Institute of Medical Sciences )
Muhammad Numan Zahid  ( Services Institute of Medical Sciences )
Iftikhar Ali  ( Services Institute of Medical Sciences )
Hassan Iqbal  ( Services Institute of Medical Sciences )


Objectives: To find the frequency and determinants of patients preferring complementary and alternative medicine over registered medical doctors.
Method: This cross-sectional study was conducted at Services Hospital, Mayo Hospital and Jinnah Hospital in Lahore, Pakistan, from June 8 to August 20, 2017.A pre-tested self-administered questionnaire was used to collect data. SPSS 20 was used for data analysis.
Results: Of the 385 subjects, 200(51.9%) had visited at least one complementary and alternative medicine healer in their life. Besides, 166(83%) subjects confirmed positive outcome of such therapies. When asked about reasons behind their choice,227(59%)subjects mentioned cost effectiveness, 99(25.7%) better understanding, 131(34%) guidance about disease by such healers, 198(51.4%) harmless therapies, 198(51.4%) natural ingredients of medicines, 154(40%) accessibility, 161(41.8%) psychological satisfaction, 221(57.4%) said fewer appointments, 222(57.7%) said diagnosis without laboratory tests, 131(34%)family influence, 52(13.5%) had surgical fears, 101(26.2%) said faith in spiritual exercises, 63(16.4%) were addicted to complementary and alternative medicine products, 122(31.7%) said better communication) while183(47.5%) said sparing more time for consultation.
Conclusions: There were a variety of beliefs and reasons behind patients preferring complementary and alternative medicine providers over medical doctors.
Keywords: Complementary and alternative medicine, Patient\\\'s preferences, Health beliefs models. (JPMA 68: 914; 2018)


Right from the commencement of healthcare system, unconventional and alternative medicine has competed with biomedicine which is thought to be based on scientific research. Unconventional medicine has taken different forms in different regions of the world. It includes spiritual/religious therapies, manual techniques and physical exercises, herbal medicines, homeopathic and even malingering. The recent term used for these methods is Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). CAM is a broad term that includes different health modalities, purpose of which is to heal diseases or at times just to gain money or fame. Some modalities are found to treat people with therapies of ancient times, even before the initiation of scientific biomedicine. On the other hand, sometime it also includes unqualified healers who misuse the trust of the patient in the profession by practising questionable therapies. There has been an unprecedented increase in interest and faith in these systems of therapeutics on a global level. Studies have documented that about half the population of many industrialised countries now use traditional/CAM (T/CAM), and the proportion is as high as 80% in many developing countries.1 Its prevalence in United States is 42%.2 In 1993 the use of at least one non-medically prescribed alternative medicine in Australia was 48.5%.3 The prevalence of CAM usage was 38.5% among Indian community in South Africa. 4 Overall, 98% of patients had used at least one form of CAM therapy after diagnosis of breast cancer in China. 5 Almost 9 million people in Italy (15.6% of the Italian population) used at least one unconventional therapy during the period 1997-1999. 6 The therapies mostly include herbal medicine, massage, acupuncture, self-help groups, Ayurveda, faith-healing, chiropractic, cupping, bonesetters, meditation, midwives, yoga, homeopathy, aromatherapy and quacks. Different therapies are dominant in different regions of the world. There is also association of CAM therapies to the culture of the native people. Alternative therapies are used most frequently for chronic conditions. 2 Healthcare system in Pakistan has two main domains; public and private sectors. Public sector comprises allopathic system. In the private sector, there are very few accredited outlets and hospitals, but many unregulated hospitals, general medical practitioners, homeopaths, hakims, traditional/spiritual healers, Unani (Greco-Arab) healers, herbalists, bonesetters and quacks. Some modules of CAM became part of the national healthcare system after being registered by the government, these include Tibb-e-Unani, homeopathy, Ayurveda medicine.11 While others are still unregistered, including faith-healing, osteopaths (bonesetters), massagers, charlatans, and these are still considered mal-practitioners. Around 70-80% of the population, particularly in rural areas, uses CAM. Use of unconventional methods of therapy by cancer patients was widespread (54.5% of all patients). 7 Community-based research was conducted between 2002 to 2004 by Drug Control Division, National Institute of Health (NIH), Islamabad, Ministry of Health, Islamabad, Department of pharmacology and Therapeutics of Medicine, Medical Sciences College of Bahrain, and Microbiology Department, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan, to find out percentage of people visiting CAM healers. According to this study, overall trend in Pakistan showed that 51.7% chose CAM, while 48.3% chose biomedicine. 8It is clearly shown in researches that CAM is continually gaining popularity in different countries of the world. The business of CAM providers is touching new peaks day by day. But there have been very few studies to find out the determinants among people visiting CAM healers. The current study was planned to establish the determining factors behind people\\\'s decision to prefer CAM healers over professional doctors.

Subjects and Methods

This cross-sectional study was conducted from June 8 to August 20, 2017 in three public hospitals of Lahore, Pakistan: Services Hospital, Mayo Hospital and Jinnah Hospital. Approval was obtained from the ethical committees and the institutional review boards of all the three hospitals.Sample size was estimated using World Health Organisation (WHO) software by using formula of estimating a population proportion with specified relative precision. At confidence level 95% and anticipated population proportion 50%8 with relative precision 10%, the sample size was set at 385.Subjects were enrolled using convenient sampling techniques.Those included were either admitted in wards or were visiting the out-patient department (OPD) of these hospitals. Written informed consent was obtained from all the subjects. A detailed structured questionnaire in both English and Urdu containing close-ended questions was used to collect data. A complete description was given to those who had difficulty in understanding the questions, with translation of questionnaire to local language for their convenience. After understanding each question, subjects were allowed to select the best option.SPSS 20 was used to analyse the data. Appropriate statistics were applied. For qualitative variables, frequency and percentage distribution tables were generated. The data was also presented in the form of pie charts. For qualitative variables, chi-square test was used to evaluate the correlation between variables. P<0.05 was taken as significant.


Of the 385 subjects approached, 130(33.7%) were from the Services Hospital, 130(33.7%) were from Mayo Hospital, and 125(32.5%) were from Jinnah Hospital. The response rate was 100%. Of the total, 200(51.9%) patients had visited at least one CAM healer in their life, either authorised or unauthorised. Remaining 185(48.1%) patients had never been to CAM healers. Out of 200(51.9%) patients 134(67%) were male patients while 66(33%) were female.Of the 200, 177(88.5%) came to know about CAM healers either through a relative or a friend. Other ways cited were newspaper 9(4.5%), billboard 7(3.5%), television 4(2%), radio 3(1.5%). Homeopaths 68(34%), Charlatan 36(18%) and spiritual healers 28(14%) were the most preferable CAM types visited by patients (Figure).

Out of 200people who had visited the CAM healers, 21(10.5%) went for preventing illness, 143(71.5%) for treating illness and 36(18%) for promoting their general health. Of those with diseases, 73(51%) were suffering from acute illness and 70(49%) had chronic illness. CAM healers proposed different modes of treatment to their patients (Table-1).

Medication with undisclosed ingredients was most common prescribed mode of treatment by CAM healers which was started by 116 (58%) of subjects. Overall 69(34.5%) patients had just one experience in their lives with CAM healers. Rest of them had frequent visits like weekly 39(19.5%), monthly 48(24%) and yearly 44(22%).Of the 200, 166(83%) patients verified positive outcome of CAM therapies. Besides, 22(11%) patients had no effect of having CAM therapies and 12(6%) were not sure about the results. Also, 41(20.5%) subjects visited only CAM healers, while 159(79.5%) used CAM therapies along with medical prescription.Cost effectiveness, better understanding and guidance about disease by CAM healers, harmless therapies, natural ingredients of medicines accessibility, psychological satisfaction, fewer appointments, diagnosis without laboratory tests, family influences, surgical fears, faith in spiritual exercises, addiction to CAM products, better communication and sparing more time for consultation were the beliefs and determinants due to which patients preferred CAM over professional doctors (Table-2).


We can trace CAM history from the ancient times. CAM healers provided healthcare even before scientific evidence-based medicine was learned and practised. The use of CAM therapies is widespread; some are registered practitioners while others are unregistered mal-practitioners. We conducted this study to find out how much these CAM therapies still prevail in our society and what are the beliefs of people about them. Research was done among patients visiting the leading public hospitals of Lahore. Out of 385, 200(51.9%) patients had experience with CAM healers and 83% of them were satisfied by their therapies. Most of the people visited CAM for treating chronic illness. Many patients were referred by other people who had been visiting those CAM healers. About 83% of the patients verified the positive outcome of CAM therapies.In our study 51.9% of the people visited CAM healers, while 48.1% only consulted biomedicine. A research showed that of those who chose CAM, 20% also used biomedicine as well,8 while in our study 79.5% of the population had experience with both CAM healers and professional doctors for their illness.Another research compiled by the National Cancer Institute, Karachi, proved that 54.5% of the 199 cancer patients used CAM therapies for their illness. Patients generally perceived these methods as useful, non-toxic and inexpensive. Age, marital status, socio-economic background, education level and status of underlying neoplasm did not influence the frequency of use of unconventional methods. However, determinants which influenced patients to use CAM were gender, family size, family influence and type of underlying malignancy. Study also showed that traditional herbal medicines and homeopathy were the most commonly employed methods while in our study homeopaths, charlatans and spiritual healers are on the top of list. 7In 2005 Department of Community Health Sciences, Aga Khan University Karachi, published a research article which showed that alternative therapies have been utilised by people in Pakistan who have faith in spiritual healers, clergymen, hakims, homeopaths or even quacks. The main reasons for consulting a CAM healer is the proximity, affordable fee, availability, family pressure and the strong opinion of the community. 9 While research done in India showed that the most commonly cited reason by patients for using CAM was fear of adverse drug reactions of conventional medicines. 10Some of the determinants due to which people tend to consult CAM providers were excavated by previous researchers. We tried to explore more determinants and beliefs of the people about CAM healers and their therapies. Many of the patients believed that CAM healers completely understand about the nature the disease and their therapies are totally harmless and their medicines are cost effective and have fewer side effects because they are made of natural ingredients. For them, CAM providers are more accessible and they felt satisfied by consulting CAM healers because CAM healers do not need repeated appointments and expensive laboratory test for diagnosis and treatment. Some people preferred CAM due to family influence and surgical fears. While others found themselves addicted to CAM products. Many people who had faith in spiritual exercises like dam darood and taweez were inclined towards CAM providers. Very few people believed that CAM providers give better information to lead healthy life than doctors. Two very important factors due to which patients put CAM healers above doctors were that CAM healers provide better communication and spare more time than professional doctors. Some of the patients also had faith that CAM healers can treat even those diseases which are labelled as end stage or non-treatable by doctors. It was due to these beliefs that more-than-half of our subjects thought conventional and unconventional medicine should be practised in a parallel manner.This research is an area-specific study done on patients in leading public hospitals of Lahore so its results cannot be generalised. Some privacy issues were raised by respondents and some of the subjects also tried to hide the facts about visiting CAM healers at first due to either embarrassment or guilt.


It More-than-half of the study population consulted CAM healersand most of them were satisfied by treatments proposed by such healers. Patients had a range of beliefs due to which they visited different CAM healers.

Conflict of Interest: None.
Sources of Funding: None.


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