Alternative and Complementary Medicine
Doctors, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and nurses are trained in the scientific method. They take a scientific approach to medicine, sometimes called the medical model or evidence-based medicine. This scientific approach to health and illness is sometimes criticized as leading to overmedicalization—treating normal conditions of living as medical problems and prescribing medicine unnecessarily. Alternative medicine includes approaches to health and illness that fall outside the medical model and treatments that occur outside of traditional institutions such as clinics, doctors' offices, and hospitals. Chiropractors, acupuncturists, massage therapists, traditional healers, and others are considered practitioners of alternative medicine. Some mainstream medical professionals regard alternative medicine as unorthodox or ineffective. They might argue that alternative medicine involves approaches and treatments that have not been shown to be effective using scientific methods and definitions. Other medical providers view alternative medicine as an effective, or potentially effective, complement to the medical model. Some doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies incorporate what they term complementary medicine, treatments and therapies that fall outside the evidenced-based, medical model. For example, chiropractic care and acupuncture are sometimes used in conjunction with treatment by a physician or prescription medication.
Sociologists study the social phenomenon of alternative medicine to understand social and cultural trends related to what medicine and medical treatment mean in a particular society or community, or why particular patterns of behavior occur. Some researchers investigate how race, ethnicity, age, gender, or other factors influence people to use or avoid alternative medicine. For example, a 2012 study found that African Americans who felt they had experienced discrimination in any arena were more likely to see a practitioner of alternative medicine. Numerous studies show that women are much more likely than men to pursue alternative medical treatment. Sociologists analyze these findings and try to understand how they impact health outcomes for different social groups. They note that most people tend to attempt to self-medicate before visiting a doctor, by using over-the-counter medication or by taking illegal drugs. The growth of alternative medicine may reduce barriers for some people, prompting them to seek treatment of some kind. However, it may also cause some individuals or groups to avoid consulting medical doctors for conditions that are best treated by mainstream, science-based medicine.