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Forsch Komplementmed. 2012;19 Suppl 2:6-8. doi: 10.1159/000343812.

Towards a pan-European definition of complementary and alternative medicine--a realistic ambition?

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Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society, Division of Nursing, Unit for Studies of Integrative Care, Karolinska Institutet, Huddinge, Järna, Sweden.



The terms used for defining complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) including the methods, procedures and therapies vary greatly. The task of the CAMbrella working group on terminology was to explore the existing CAM terminologies and to develop a pragmatic definition of CAM that is acceptable Europe-wide. This can then be used to systematically research, e.g., its prevalence and legal status and to investigate the citizens' demands on CAM and the perspectives of providers of CAM in Europe.


Terms and definitions were collected from both scientific and non-scientific sources. The terms and definitions identified were analysed and discussed among the CAMbrella working group participants on several occasions with the aim of arriving at a consensus.


We developed a proposal for a pragmatic European definition of CAM: 'Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) utilised by European citizens represents a variety of different medical systems and therapies based on the knowledge, skills and practices derived from theories, philosophies and experiences used to maintain and improve health, as well as to prevent, diagnose, relieve or treat physical and mental illnesses. CAM has been mainly used outside conventional health care, but in some countries certain treatments are being adopted or adapted by conventional health care.'


Developing a uniform, pragmatic pan-European definition of CAM was complicated by a number of factors. These included the vast diversity of existing definitions, systems, disciplines, procedures, methods and therapies available within the EU.

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