Experts say hospitals need to better account for the use of complimentary medicine by cancer patients.

Although about 60 per cent of patients starting chemotherapy, and 47 per cent of those receiving radiotherapy, also use complementary medicine, a “concerning” number of hospital cancer services do not have policies about complementary medicine practitioners or patient-initiated complementary medicine use, according to new research.

The use of complementary medicines is often not discussed with the medical team, which increases the risk of interactions and other undesirable effects, according to the researchers.

Academics at Western Sydney University and the University of New South Wales surveyed Australian public and private hospitals with dedicated cancer services to assess various aspects of cancer service coverage, particularly complementary medicine services. One staff member from each service completed a 52-item electronic survey.

Thirty six per cent of the hospitals could not provide responses to one or more of the five policy-related survey questions.

Only 34 per cent were aware of the Council of Australian Therapeutic Advisory Groups (CATAG) position statement on complementary medicines (PDF), and only 35 per cent of these respondents thought that their hospital policies were aligned with this statement.

“A substantial proportion of hospitals did not have policies regarding complementary medicine practitioners or patient-initiated complementary medicine use,” the researchers found.

Most hospitals (87 per cent) had policies for documenting complementary medicines, 33 per cent documented all complementary medicines (including patient-initiated products) on medication charts, 38 per cent documented only complementary medicines approved by medical staff, and 21 per cent documented complementary medicine use only in the clinical history.

The policy at 6 per cent of hospitals was that complementary medicines were never permitted, despite CATAG advice.

After analysing the data, researchers found that hospitals with cancer services without complementary medicine services were significantly less likely to have policies on complementary medicine practitioners and documenting complementary medicines

The study is accessible here.