The use of CAM in Norway has increased during the recent years. The last major survey on the use of CAM was carried out by NIFAB (the National Information Centre on CAM) in 2007. The results showed that nearly every second Norwegian had used CAM in one form or another that year.
In Norway, CAM is mainly used complementarily, in that Norwegians see doctors and alternative practitioners at the same time. When Norwegians fall ill, the majority of them still go to their doctor first. They rarely stop conventional medical treatment in favour of CAM to treat an illness or condition.
The state does not reimburse expenses in connection with the use of CAM, except when such treatment is provided by the public health service. Many public hospitals offer CAM to their patients; acupuncture is, for example, offered as pain relief to women in labour. The range of methods that patients can choose from, however, varies between hospitals based on what they deem safe to offer and what is available at the hospital. Some Norwegian health personnel have education in complementary and alternative medicine and practice various methods.
Voluntary national register
Anyone can practice CAM, as long as the treatment is not given to cure serious or contagious illnesses. The law primarily distinguishes between treatment that aims to directly treat and cure serious illnesses and treatment that aims to alleviate and ease the symptoms or consequences of an illness. You do not require any qualifications or documented competence in order to call yourself an alternative practitioner or practice CAM. Those who practice CAM have fewer obligations and less responsibility than authorised health personnel.
When non-authorised personnel provide CAM outside a public hospital, they are legally bound by a separate Act relating to the Alternative Treatment of Disease, Illness, etc. In the Act, the patient is deemed a consumer and a buyer of services and is only entitled to lodge complaints with the Consumer Ombudsman or the practitioner’s trade union. Practitioners, however, are not required to join a trade union or to register anywhere to practice CAM. This also explains why it is difficult to put an exact figure on the number of alternative practitioners in Norway.
In conjunction with the efforts to professionalise the practice of CAM and to strengthen patients’ rights, the authorities have established a national register in which CAM practitioners can enter their activities. To make this more attractive, it has been proposed that registered practitioners could be given a financial incentive (VAT exemption) for their services, but this has yet to be approved.
NAFKAM – an interdisciplinary research centre
Although there is no strict or detailed regulation of complementary and alternative medicine in Norway, the Norwegian authorities take its existence seriously, both as a sales product and a health service. The authorities appreciate for Norwegians to make a good, personal, informed choice with respect to their health. This means that research and dissemination of objective facts about CAM is required.
Norway therefore has a separate, interdisciplinary research centre for CAM: The National Research Center in Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NAFKAM) was established at the University of Tromsø in 2000 . The centre’s research and projects cover a wide range of topics, from clinical studies to studies of patients’ use of CAM.
In 2007, the National Information Centre on CAM (NIFAB) was established as part of NAFKAM. Specialised editorial staff run the website www.nifab.no, where Norwegians can find objective, research-based information about CAM.
NAFKAM also keeps a Registry of Exceptional Courses of Disease (RESF) in connection with the use of CAM. This research project constitutes a foundation that can contribute to explaining which factors influence exceptional disease courses. This may make it easier for patients and treatment providers to choose knowledge-based treatments.
In 2008, the World Health Organisation selected NAFKAM as its first Northern-European partner on popular medicine and CAM.