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Academia and the Profession |

Potential Physician Malpractice Liability Associated with Complementary and Integrative Medical Therapies

Michael H. Cohen, JD; and David M. Eisenberg, MD
[+] Article, Author, and Disclosure Information

From Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts.

Acknowledgments: The authors thank Maria Van Rompay for research assistance.

Grant Support: By unrestricted educational grants from the American Specialty Health Plan and the Medtronic Foundation. The funding institutions had no editorial input into the paper, and the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of the funding institutions.

Requests for Single Reprints: Michael H. Cohen, JD, Harvard Medical School Division for Research and Education in Complementary and Integrative Medical Therapies, Landmark Center, 401 Park Drive, Suite 22A, Boston, MA 02215.

Current Author Addresses: Mr. Cohen and Dr. Eisenberg: Harvard Medical School Division for Research and Education in Complementary and Integrative Medical Therapies, Landmark Center, 401 Park Drive, Suite 22A, 2nd Floor West, Boston, MA 02215.

Ann Intern Med. 2002;136(8):596-603. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-136-8-200204160-00009
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Physicians are increasingly grappling with medical liability issues as complementary and integrative health care practices are made available in conventional medical settings. This article proposes a framework in which physicians can assess potential malpractice liability issues in counseling patients about complementary and integrative therapies. The framework classifies complementary and integrative therapies according to whether the evidence reported in the medical and scientific literature supports both safety and efficacy; supports safety, but evidence regarding efficacy is inconclusive; supports efficacy, but evidence regarding safety is inconclusive; or indicates either serious risk or inefficacy. Clinical examples in each category help guide the clinician on how to counsel patients regarding use of complementary and alternative medical therapies in a given clinical situation. Specific strategies to reduce the risk for potential malpractice liability include the following: 1) determine the clinical risk level; 2) document the literature supporting the therapeutic choice; 3) provide adequate informed consent; 4) continue to monitor the patient conventionally; and 5) for referrals, inquire about the competence of the complementary and alternative medicine provider. This framework provides a basis for clinical decisions involving complementary and integrative care.


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Potential malpractice liability risk associated with complementary and integrative medical therapies.
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