This study examined the frequency of patients using alternative medicine to treat their condition before presenting to an emergency department (ED). This was a prospective randomized, consecutive survey conducted at a level I 24-bed inner-city trauma center. Patients were eligible for enrollment if they were at least 18 years old and able to consent. Exclusion criteria included patients delivered by an ambulance and patients unable or unwilling to consent. The questionnaire collected information about sociodemographic variables, alternative treatment used, why was it used, who prescribed the treatment, route, treatment satisfaction, and past history of alternative treatment and medication use. A total of 189 patients were surveyed. Of these, 10.6% of the surveyed patients used alternative treatment. The most common reason for using alternative medicine was "I wanted to try the simplest treatment first" (55%). These treatment options were self-prescribed by 55%, advice from a friend or family member by 40% and other health professional in 5%. The alternative medicines included massage (35%), home remedies (20%), prayer (20%), chiropractor (15%), herbal medicines (5%) and other methods (5%). The treatment was administered orally (20%) or topically (80%). Most said that the alternative therapy was helpful (60%). The use of alternative therapy versus no use of alternative therapy was correlated with gender (P =. 05), treatment (P =. 025) and how it was administered (P =. 021). A small but significant number of inner-city patients use alternative treatments before presenting to an ED. Emergency physicians need to consider the use of alternative treatment and medicine by patients presenting to the ED for treatment. Copyright 2002, Elsevier Science (USA). All rights reserved.
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