The recent growth of alternative medicine has brought with it an age-old problem for patients: making informed decisions about the proper course of treatment. Sometimes this means weighing alternative remedies against traditional treatments.

In other cases, it means finding a doctor who will be open-minded and informed enough to recommend the best treatment available. Finding such practitioners who know how to integrate the best of conventional and alternative medicine is becoming increasingly easy, but the rising popularity of alternatives has led to a glut of unqualified "quacks." Consumers need to guard against worthless remedies. Here are important points to keep in mind.

Five Easy Steps to Finding an Alternative Practitioner

Michael and Mary Morton have addressed the issue of choosing an alternative practitioner in their book, Five Steps to Selecting the Best Alternative Medicine (New World Library, 1996). The Mortons recommend the following process:

  • Learn your options
  • Get good referrals
  • Screen the health-care professionals you are considering
  • Interview each one
  • Remember that you are forming a partnership with the person treating you

This last point constitutes a change in the way medicine has been practiced in the West for much of this century.

"We basically gave doctors tremendous carte blanche," Michael Morton says. "It was worshiping the God of technology."

Today, patients who are tired of old methods but unsure about new ones, can limit their choices to those alternative practitioners who are subject to license: holistic MDs, chiropractors, acupuncturists, osteopaths and naturopaths.

Additionally, the Mortons emphasize that one should look for the best treatment at all times, whether it is alternative or conventional.

"Different systems of medicine are good for different conditions," notes Michael Morton. Western medicine is better for emergency care or injury, while alternative therapies may be more effective for dealing with chronic conditions in some people.

"There's good medicine in Western medicine and there's bad medicine in Western medicine," Morton points out, "just like there are in alternative treatments."