Patient perceptions of clinical care in complementary medicine: A systematic review of the consultation experience.



The consultation experience

This article first published in Patient Education and Counseling by Hope Foley and Amie Steel who concluded  it was evident Complementary Medicine consultations provide a patient experience of empathy, empowerment and patient-centredness….

The opportunity for patient empowerment through self-efficacy has been identified as a driving influence of complementary medicine use.  This is the first review to explore the application of patient-centred care principles by Complementary medicine practitioners during clinical consultations from the perspective of their patients.

Finding that patients frequently report experiences such as practitioner empathy and patient empowerment. The nature of clinical care received is an important and defining characteristic that distinguishes complementary medicine from conventional health-care settings.

Central to the experience of patient-centred care, is the dynamic of the patient-practitioner relationship, which operates as a partnership, facilitated by effective communication. The consistent emphasis on the occurrence of practitioner empathy is noteworthy, particularly with consideration to previous research identifying the desire for an empathic practitioner as a factor which attracts complementary medicine patients when seeking complementary medicine services.

The potentially beneficial influence of the patient-practitioner relationship, practitioner empathy, and patient empowerment on health outcomes has been identified indicating that psychosocial factors affect clinical health outcomes and additional research which suggests that complementary medicine patients seek complementary medicine services specifically to meet unmet psychosocial health needs, it follows that the importance of addressing such needs should be considered in the greater scope of health-care provision.

Further to this, it would be of interest to future research endeavours to explore the potential link between clinical care and clinical health outcomes in complementary medicine clinical settings.


This review aims to describe the prevalence of empathy, empowerment and patient-centred clinical care experienced by patients in complementary medicine (CM) consultations.


A systematic review was undertaken of original research exploring patient perceptions of CM clinical care. Ten databases were searched: Alt HealthWatch, AMED, CINAHL Plus, MEDLINE Complete, Cochrane Library, PubMed, Proquest Medical Collection, PsycInfo, Social Sciences Citation Index and Psychology Collection. Studies were included which reported patient perceptions of consultation with CM practitioners and were excluded where experimental methods controlled the nature of consultation processes.


Findings of included studies (n=34) were categorised under the a priori themes of empathy, empowerment and patient-centred care. This produced a substantial pool of qualitative data detailing patient-reported experiences which consistently confirmed occurrence of these themes in CM consultation. Quantitative data was correlative, yet was insufficient to definitively describe prevalence of such experiences.


While it is evident that CM consultations provide a patient experience of empathy, empowerment and patient-centredness, further research is warranted to quantify this experience before it can be defined as characteristic of CM clinical care.

Practice Implications:

This review draws attention to the potential role of CM as a resource for patients’ psychosocial health needs.


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