Integrative therapies can provide cost-effective relief for many conditions, but more research is needed
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Health care reform’s emphasis on cost-efficient, effective therapies that enhance quality of life offers a golden opportunity to take integrative medicine into the mainstream.
“Integrative medicine should not be separate from mainstream health care. In this new paradigm, let’s drop the word ‘integrative’ and call it what it is — health care,” said Todd Ambrosia, assistant clinical professor at the University of Miami’s School of Nursing and Health Studies. He was speaking at a panel titled “Advances in Integrative Health Care: Impact on Global Health Issues,” presented during the University of Miami Global Business Forum, held Jan. 12–14, 2011.
Integrative health care combines the techniques and treatments of Eastern medicine with those of Western medicine to create a complementary system. Leading medical institutions including Duke University and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have already embraced this type of care, noted panelist Maria Lamas Shojaee, a UM trustee.
Panelists (L-R) Todd Ambrosia, Assistant
According to Ambrosia, integrative health care has five domains: biologically based therapies such as homeopathy, which involves the use of minute doses of drugs to obtain therapeutic effects; nutrition; mind-body interventions, which are techniques that enhance the mind’s ability to affect the body; manipulative therapies, such as chiropractic treatment; and energy therapies, which involve the body’s energy fields with work such as acupuncture, acupressure and Reiki.
These treatments can be of great value when offered to patients suffering from some of the most devastating — and costly — conditions, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, orthopedics and pain management, Ambrosia said. “When we look at the costs associated with these fields, we can see how pivotal it is to integrate alternative health care,” he added.
Convinced of their benefit, consumers already spend billions of dollars each year out of their own pockets for these treatments, noted Susan Luck, national director of UM’s Integrative Nursing School. “If major health care organizations do not understand what integrated health care is, they are missing a major opportunity,” she said. “We are not talking about changing their minds or changing their practice, but about their beginning to understand which modalities might be helpful to their patients.”
Shojaee provided a personal account: as a teenager, she nearly died in a car accident. “I had to nurse myself back to health using the Western therapies, but also with Eastern modalities. Those restored my emotional health, and once I got well within my being, everything started to flow perfectly,” she said. As a result, integrative medicine became her passion, and she became a Reiki master. “The body is an energy system that must be balanced. When you achieve that, and add any Western modality to it, it will work 120 percent because your mind is focused on making it work,” she said. “When they work together with each other, it is a very powerful thing.”
To be sure, integrative medicine faces many challenges, including the lack of reimbursement from insurance companies, the need for more research, and the fact that doctors and their patients often do not take these therapies seriously.
Luck predicted that insurers will eventually begin reimbursing for many of these therapies. ,“If we don’t move toward wellness and prevention, by 2020, we are looking at spending more than $3.35 trillion in health care costs,” she said. To reduce these escalating costs, insurers will have no alternative but to embrace prevention. “They now have these programs within their own companies, and they have seen their own health care costs reduced. So if they are interested in saving money, they will invest in prevention by using these modalities,” she added.
However, research has been limited. While both practitioners and patients see results from therapies, proving their effectiveness on a wide scale can be more difficult. “We sometimes get caught in the Western paradigm that if we can’t understand it, it’s not valid,” Luck said. A lack of hard evidence can breed skepticism among doctors, patients and insurers, Ambrosia added. “We need to get valid information into the media because this will help to change the mind-set of people who are in charge of creating the health care plans, as well as some of the insurance companies,” he said.
Nurses can take a leading role in changing minds about integrative therapies, because they act as emissaries to their communities and as coaches to their patients. As Luck noted, “We need to educate the public. Nurses have this kind of knowledge, so, through education, we can bring it into families.”