POLICY:   Complementary and Alternative Therapies

The College’s Position

Patients have a right to make decisions about their health care including choosing complementary or alternative therapies instead of, or as an adjunct to, conventional medicine.

It is unethical to engage in or to aid and abet in treatment which has no acceptable scientific basis, may be dangerous, may deceive the patient by giving false hope, or which may cause the patient to delay in seeking conventional care until his or her condition becomes irreversible.


Physicians Who Choose to Use Complementary or Alternative Therapies in Their Practice

Physicians who choose to practise complementary or alternative therapies in combination with conventional medicine must practise in a manner that is informed by medical evidence and science and is in keeping with their professional, ethical and legal obligations. Physicians must always act within the scope of their practice based on their qualifications, skill and knowledge, and level of competence.

Physicians must:

  • ·  conduct appropriate and conventional examinations and investigations in order to establish a diagnosis and basis for treatment
  • ·  employ a rigorous medical approach before offering any complementary or alternative therapy
  • ·  not delay or supplant the use of an effective and proven therapy with a complementary or alternative therapy, except at the direction of the patient
  • ·  counsel the patient, to the best of his or her ability and knowledge, about the risks and benefits of any procedure, so that the patient can give informed consent
    • the details of the consent process, including the rationale for providing an alternative therapy as explained to the patient, must be documented in the patient’s medical record
  • ·  only provide complementary or alternative therapies if standard therapies have been offered and explained to the patient, and the patient and the physician have selected the complementary or alternative therapy.
    • The discussion with the patient must include a comparison of the risks and benefits of complementary or alternative therapies and the risks and benefits of standard therapies
  • ·  only provide complementary or alternative therapies if, in the physician’s opinion, the potential benefits of the therapy outweigh the risks
  • ·  respect the autonomy of the patient in choosing from available treatment options
    • if the patient’s choice of a complementary or alternative therapy has made it impossible for the physician to discharge his or her ethical responsibilities, it is acceptable for the physician to terminate the patient-physician relationship
  • ·  never exploit the emotions, vulnerability, or finances of a patient for personal gain or gratification



One of the risks of using unconventional treatment is that more appropriate treatment may be delayed. 

All physicians must monitor the results of treatment, whether it is conventional treatment or not.

The same standards of care that are expected in conventional diagnosis and treatment apply to the use of unconventional treatment.  A physician should not provide an unconventional therapy simply because the patient demands it.


Ethical Expectations

 Physicians are reminded that The Code of Ethics establishes expectations for Saskatchewan physicians. Among those expectations are the following:

  2. Treat all patients with respect; do not exploit them for personal advantage.

11. Recognize and disclose conflicts of interest that arise in the course of your professional duties and activities, and resolve them in the best interest of patients.

21. Provide your patients with the information they need to make informed decisions about their medical care, and answer their questions to the best of your ability.

23. Recommend only those diagnostic and therapeutic procedures that you consider to be beneficial to your patient or to others.

24. Respect the right of a competent patient to accept or reject any medical care recommended.

45. Recognize a responsibility to give the generally held opinions of the profession when interpreting scientific knowledge to the public; when presenting an opinion that is contrary to the generally held opinion of the profession, so indicate.

50. Avoid promoting, as a member of the medical profession, any service (except your own) or product for personal gain.



Professional Affiliations with Complementary or Alternative Healthcare Providers

In choosing to form a professional affiliation with a (regulated) complementary or alternative health-care provider, physicians should be satisfied that the proposed care or health benefit is safe, or at minimum, not more risky than comparable conventional interventions or not more risky than not receiving conventional interventions.

Physicians may seek advice on these issues by contacting the College and asking to speak with a member of the registrar staff, or by seeking medical legal advice from the CMPA.

The College gratefully acknowledges the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia for permitting its document Complementary and Alternative Medicine to be adapted in preparing this standard.


Other Resources

College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan – Guideline – Informed Consent

Canadian Medical Protective Association Alternative Medicine – what are the medico-legal concerns? https://www.cmpa-acpm.ca/-/alternative-medicine-what-are-the-medico-legal-concerns-





Confirmed by Council:

June 2018



To be reviewed:

June 2023


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