Alternative Health Care

Alternative Health Care

Industry Outlook

In late 1998, the U.S. government gave additional recognition to the field of alternative health care, elevating the Office of Alternative Medicine to the status of a center—the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, which was most recently renamed the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. The U.S. government has also dramatically increased NCCIH's budget since its conception. The center focuses on conducting clinical trials in a variety of alternative approaches.

The lack of sufficient clinical data to prove the efficacy and safety of alternative approaches has long been a major criticism put forth by the medical establishment. Advocates of alternative medicine argue that health care systems that have been validated through centuries of use do not need scientific proof. In addition, they point out that hundreds of very good studies on many of the modalities already exist.

Still, carefully controlled clinical trials may provide scientific data that will help legitimize alternative approaches in the eyes of more conventional practitioners and thus help pave the way toward more cooperation between alternative and conventional practitioners.

In 2000, the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine was established to help access and regulate the methods and practitioners of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Among the most common CAM therapies in use are natural products, deep breathing, meditation, chiropractic and osteopathic treatments, and massage. 

Some states require insurance companies to cover alternative treatments. In California, for example, medical insurance plans must include coverage for acupuncture and chiropractic treatments. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act provides for "the reach of innovative preventive and treatment approaches designed to help Americans achieve better health through integrated approaches that promote healing and health in every individual and community."

The clinical trials conducted by the NCCIH and other agencies undoubtedly will have a profound impact on the areas studied. The results may help some alternative approaches and discredit others. Alternative health care practitioners will be watching the clinical trials very carefully. The NCCIH trials and other studies will create more opportunities in research for practitioners of alternative approaches. Integration of alternative approaches into conventional medical education will continue to increase, creating more teaching opportunities for alternative practitioners.

According to a November 2018 NCCIH report, certain types of CAM were on the rise in the United States toward the end of the decade, among both children and adults. For example, the use of yoga by adults reached 14.3 percent in 2017, up from 9.5 percent in 2012. During the same timeframe, the use of yoga by children increased from 3.1 percent to 8.4 percent. A more significant increase was noted in the case of meditation, which increased from 4.1 percent to 14.2 percent for adults, and from 0.6 percent to 5.4 percent for children.

In March 2019, Grand View Research forecast 17.07 percent compound annual growth for the global complementary and alternative medicine market, which was expected to generate revenues of $210.81 billion by 2026. The firm indicated that some form of complementary or alternative medicine had been used by about 66 percent of the world's population by the late 2010s, in both developing and developed countries, and that the legalization of alternative therapies and medicines was occurring in different parts of the world, thanks to supporting clinical evidence.

The outlook for employment opportunities is bright in many areas of alternative health care, according to the Department of Labor (DOL). For instance, in 2018, approximately 160,000 massage therapists were employed in the United States, and the DOL forecasts that number to increase to about 195,000 by 2028. Chiropractors will also experience faster than average employment growth, with 3,700 new jobs added to the field by 2028, according to the DOL.

With all of its hope, excitement, and change, alternative health care is the most rapidly growing segment of the field of health care in general. Significant recent events—such as the decriminalization of marijuana for medical use in some states and increasing use of dietary supplements—indicate that the alternative health care field will continue growing well into the 21st century.

The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 placed some bumps in the road for the alternative health care industry. With social distancing requirements, business closures, and other restrictions meant to slow the spread of the disease, IBISWorld predicted a 4 percent decline in revenue across the industry in 2020. There are growth opportunities, however, for alternative health care providers expected in the years to come. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine reported that women aged 30 to 69 are the prevalent users of alternative health care. "As this demographic group grows as a percentage of the total population, demand for industry services also increases." Grand View Research also reports that "government authorities across the globe are keen on promoting traditional alternatives for the treatment of COVID-19 individuals...". Increased funding is expected for clinical studies of alternative medicine treatments for COVID-19. This can positively impact the complementary and alternative medicine industry in the near future.