Talking with your patients about Complementary Medicine - a Resource for Clinicians

In April 2014, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) published Talking with your patients about Complementary Medicine – a Resource for Clinicians (the Resource). The Resource aims to promote collaborative discussions between clinicians and their patients about the use of complementary medicine (CM).  The ultimate aim of the Resource is to better equip patients to make informed decisions about their health care.

The Resource is aimed at clinicians, including medical practitioners, nurses, nurse practitioners and allied health professionals.  Whilst not the primary target audience for the Resource, members of the Australian community, who use or are considering using CM, may also find the document helpful.


The Resource provides information on CM and its use and regulation in Australia. Suggestions are provided to assist clinicians to initiate discussions about CM use and promote well-informed decision making about health care options.  Clinicians are provided with suggestions for discussing evidence and reliability of information, effectiveness and potential risks with their patients. Additional information through links to other resources, for both clinicians and patients, is also provided.


The Resource represents a function of the NHMRC, as provided in Section 7(1)(a) of the National Health and Medical Research Council Act 1992, which is to inquire into and advise the community on matters relating to the improvement of health, and the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease.

The purpose of the Resource aligns with the NHMRC Strategic Plan 2013–2015 which identifies ‘claiming benefits for human health not based on evidence’ as a major health issue by providing advice to clinicians and the Australian community about CM. The Resource will assist the Australian community to make informed decisions about their health care.

NHMRC’s Health Care Committee (HCC) oversaw the development of the Resource.

Public Consultation

The draft Resource and a supplementary key messages document underwent a 45 day public consultation period, which closed on 13 September 2013. A total of 24 submissions were received.  Submissions were received from a number of stakeholders including educators, health-professional associations, consumer groups and regulatory bodies. Targeted consultation was also undertaken with a number of key organisations including the Therapeutic Goods Administration, Australia Health Practitioners Regulation Agency, and the Australian and New Zealand College of Anesthetists.  All submissions received during the consultation were taken into consideration.

The Resource was revised in light of the issues raised through public consultation.  The main revisions cover content, format and tone.

  • The one page supplementary key messages document was not progressed further due to comments received on its utility.
  • The term ‘Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)’ was replaced with ‘Complementary Medicine (CM)’ as this term is more widely recognised internationally and within Australia.
  • The definition of CM was updated to include traditional customs and Bush Medicine.
  • The tone of the document was modified to include a more consumer friendly and patient-centred approach with an emphasis on collaborative communication.
  • Information was included on the regulation of all medicinal products, including prescription medicines, over-the-counter (OTC) medicines and CM products in the sections on regulation.
  • The structure of the document was realigned, with background information and material about regulation at the beginning and the areas for discussion and items for action at the end, to enhance readability.
  • Additional resources were included in the ‘Further Information’ sections for clinicians and patients.

The final documents were approved by NHMRC’s HCC and then by Council, with final approval to release provided by NHMRC Chief Executive Officer, Professor Warwick Anderson, in April 2014.