Racial and Ethnic Variation in Complementary and Integrative Health Therapy Use among US Veterans

Jessica Tobin, Steven B. Zeliadt, Dawn M. Upchurch, Rian Defaccio, Jamie Douglas, Hannah M. Gelman, Matt Hawrilenko, Stephen Frochen, Nathan McGinty, Adam Resnick, Nathan Tomlanovich, Joy Toyama, Alison M. Whitehead, Benjamin Kligler, Stephanie L. Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Importance: White individuals are the greatest users of complementary and integrative health (CIH) therapies in the general population, but this might partially be due to differences in age, health condition, and location. Identifying the nuances in racial and ethnic differences in care is one important step to addressing them. Objective: To evaluate racial and ethnic differences in Veterans Affairs (VA)-covered CIH therapy use in a more nuanced manner by examining the association of 5 demographic characteristics, health conditions, and medical facility locations with those differences. Design, Setting, and Participants: Retrospective cross-sectional observational study of VA health care system users, using electronic health record and administrative data at all VA medical facilities and community-based clinics. Participants included veterans with nonmissing race and ethnicity data using VA-funded health care between October 2018 and September 2019. Data were analyzed from June 2022 to April 2023. Main Outcome and Measure: Any use of VA-covered acupuncture, chiropractic care, massage therapy, yoga, or meditation/mindfulness. Results: The sample consisted of 5260807 veterans with a mean (SD) age of 62.3 (16.4) years and was 91% male (4788267 veterans), 67% non-Hispanic White (3547140 veterans), 6% Hispanic (328396 veterans), and 17% Black (903699 veterans). Chiropractic care was the most used CIH therapy among non-Hispanic White veterans, Hispanic veterans, and veterans of other races and ethnicities, while acupuncture was the most commonly used therapy among Black veterans. When not accounting for the location of the VA medical facilities in which veterans used health care, Black veterans appeared more likely to use yoga and meditation than non-Hispanic White veterans and far less likely to use chiropractic care, while those of Hispanic or other race and ethnicity appeared more likely to use massage than non-Hispanic White veterans. However, those differences mostly disappeared once controlling for medical facility location, with few exceptions - after adjustment Black veterans were less likely than non-Hispanic White veterans to use yoga and more likely to use chiropractic care. Conclusions and Relevance: This large-scale, cross-sectional study found racial and ethnic differences in use of 4 of 5 CIH therapies among VA health care system users when not considering their medical facility location. Given those differences mostly disappeared once medical facilities were accounted for, the results demonstrated the importance of considering facilities and residential locations when examining racial differences in CIH therapy use. Medical facilities could be a proxy for the racial and ethnic composition of their patients, CIH therapy availability, regional patient or clinician attitudes, or therapy availability..

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E2318020
JournalJAMA network open
Issue number6
StatePublished - 16 Jun 2023
Externally publishedYes


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