Background The popularity of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) has led to a growing amount of research in this area. All the same little is known about the effects of these special treatments in every-day practice of primary care, delivered by general practitioners within the health insurance system. From 1994 to 2000 more than 20 German Company health insurances initiated the first model project on CAM according to the German social law. Aim of this contribution is to investigate the effectiveness of multi-modal CAM on chronic diseases within primary health care. Methods A long-term prospective intermittent study was conducted including 44 CAM practitioners and 1221 self-selected chronically ill patients (64% women) of whom 441 were employed. Main outcome measure is sick-leave, controlled for secular trends and regression-to-the mean and self-perceived health status. Results Sick-leave per year of 441 patients at work increased from 22 (SD ± 45.2) to 31 (± 61.0) days within three years prior to intervention, and decreased to 24 (± 55.6) in the second year of treatment, sustaining at this level in the following two years. Detailed statistical analysis show that this development exceeds secular trends and the regression-toward-the-mean effect. Sick-leave reduction was corroborated by data on self-reported improvement of patients' health status. Conclusion Results of this longterm observational study show a reduction of sick leave in chronically ill patients after a complex multimodal CAM intervention. However, as this is an uncontrolled observational study efficacy of any specific CAM treatment can not be proven. The results might indicate an general effectiveness of CAM in primary care, worthwhile further investigations. Future studies should identify the most suitable patients for CAM practices, the most appropriate and safe treatments, provide information on the magnitude of the effects to facilitate subsequent definitive randomised controlled studies that will help to position complementary and alternative medicine in health care.