News & Perspectives

Hospitals Increase CAM Offerings

These days during a hospital stay, you can stop at the yoga center for a session to help keep your blood pressure down, or visit the acupuncturist to ease the nausea that's a side effect of your cancer treatment. Or maybe you want attend a meditation clinic as an outpatient, as part of your overall plan to stay healthy by reducing stress. All these Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) offerings are part of a new trend in health care that's now reflected in hospitals across the country. And indeed the number of CAM inpatient programs nearly doubled from 1998 to 2000, according to a survey from the American Hospital Association.

Some of the most popular alternative therapies in community hospitals and academic medical centers are also the most proven: Studies have shown that acupuncture can ease nausea, pain, headaches, and fibromyalgia; chiropractic care can relieve acute back pain. Tai chi helps balance disorders; massage (a particular favorite of women in labor) relieves lower back pain and reduces stress; and mind-body techniques like yoga, biofeedback, and meditation can relieve pain and insomnia. Programs that teach heart-healthy diet, exercise, and stress reduction can help to reverse cardiovascular disease.

Many Choices for Growing Interest

"Over the past 15 years hospitals have begun to create greater numbers of CAM and lifestyle modification programs, focused on preventing or supporting treatment for heart disease, cancer, and chronic pain. Today there are hundreds of choices in hospital-based alternative medicine," explains Ruth Marlin, M.D., medical director of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California. (The Institute was founded by complementary medicine pioneer Dr. Dean Ornish, whose groundbreaking research proved that cardiovascular disease could be reversed through a program of rigorous lifestyle changes--changes, which in many cases, allowed patients to avoid costly surgical procedures and lengthy hospital stays.)

Marlin goes on to note that preventive medicine research along with growing patient interest and the need to find cost-efficient alternatives have encouraged hospitals to offer their patients a full spectrum of care. "Complementary and alternative medicine offers patients new ways to get well," she adds. "Many CAM therapies have been proven to ease pain, improve quality of life, and reduce the need for medication and surgery. Many patients recover faster, go home sooner and take new self-healing techniques home with them."

Ease Pain, Reduce Stress

According to a study at the Hennepin County Medical Center and the University of Minnesota School of Medicine, nearly half of the patients visiting a hospital-based alternative medicine clinic were seeking help for musculoskeletal disorders. During the 18-month study, researchers surveyed 797 patients at the time of their initial visit and one month later. Of the 398 who were treated for musculoskeletal complaints, many found significant relief of their symptoms with acupuncture.

Massage is another popular alternative therapy for people who are hospitalized. A study at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center School of Nursing reviewed the effects of massage therapy on 113 hospitalized patients who received one to four massages during their stays. More than two-thirds of these patients attributed enhanced mobility, greater energy, increased participation in their treatment, and faster recovery to the massages. They also reported increased relaxation, a sense of well-being, and a positive change in mood.

A Healthier Bottom Line

CAM not only offers patients more treatment choices, but it may be a factor in the fiscal health of U.S. hospitals. With Americans now spending $13.7 billion annually on complementary medicine, many hospitals are recognizing that incorporating alternative therapies will also benefit their bottom lines.

"Insurance coverage limits access to some programs to those patients who can afford the out-of-pocket cost, " Marlin says. "However, the large insurance companies and state employee insurers have recently been more willing to cover CAM and lifestyle modification programs, because they see the benefit of cost savings."

Farsighted CEOs, health professionals, and researchers are leading the charge, according to Marlin. Other health-care industry leaders have begun to realize that along with cost savings, hospitals' success can also be measured in positive public relations. In offering their patients a wider range of choices that includes complementary and alternative medicine, hospitals acquire a competitive edge.

Date Posted: 07/01/2002

Date Published: 06/30/2002
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