Integrative Medicine Poised to Ease Healthcare Crisis

Integrative Medicine Poised to Ease Healthcare Crisis

It’s no secret that the United States is in the midst of a full-blown healthcare crisis. The issue is one of the top three on the minds of voters, candidates—and business owners—in this election year. And for good reason; the numbers are staggering:

• 47 million people are without insurance, up from 29.5 million in 1987;
• In 2005, healthcare spending was 16 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) and is expected to increase to 20 percent by 2015;
• In 2006, employer health insurance premiums increased by 7.7 percent—twice the rate of inflation;
• The annual premium for an employer health plan covering a family of four averaged nearly $11,500;
• The average employee contribution to company-provided health insurance has increased more than 143 percent since 2000.

While the $40 billion (2005) U.S. Integrative Healthcare segment of the LOHAS marketplace cannot individually fix what everyone agrees is a broken system, it can contribute greatly to a reduction in costs and an increase in the overall wellness quotient, thereby saving millions of dollars for and improving the health of all stakeholders.

And yet, one of the most fragmented of all of the LOHAS categories still struggles to find a common denominator among its thousands of practitioners and administrators. There still exists no umbrella organization to bring together a myriad of disciplines to push for national licensing and credentialing, lobbying and the all-important efficacy and cost-benefit research that will drive acceptance by business and the insurance industry.

“Change needs to occur at a federal level as well as a state level,” says Woodson Merrell, M.D., executive director of New York’s The Continuum Center for Health and Healing at Beth Israel Medical Center, one of the country’s leading integrative clinical care, research and education facilities.

Merrell notes that integrative medicine can be a big factor in reviving the system. “We need to change the way healthcare is delivered,” he says. “We need to provide healthcare that is more prevention-oriented and that values the time to allow the physician to get at the root cause of the patient’s problems and not be a primarily symptom-driven, diagnosis-in-a-box-driven approach.”

While it’s too early to say that we’ve reached the tipping point for integrative medicine, a number of recent events point to its arrival at critical mass in the very near future:

• Physician education: Membership in the Consortium of Academic Health Centers, a group representing integrative medicine centers at universities in North America, now includes 30 percent of the nation’s medical schools. The Consortium is working to transform undergraduate education and training to be integrative.
• Research initiatives: A broad number of recently completed and ongoing initiatives are providing quantifiable proof that integrative medicine works and saves money. Players include Kaiser Permanente, Blue Cross of Illinois and the State of Florida.
• Employers see money savings: Companies such as Boeing, Ford Motor Co., Chrysler and Dow Chemical, all members of the Institute for Health & Productivity Management, are exploring integrative medicine as a way to reduce employer-provided healthcare costs. The organization held its first complementary, alternative and integrative medicine track at one of its regular conferences in October, according to TheIntegratorBlog.com.
• Media awareness: Big media continues to increase its coverage of nutrition and health, which includes dietary supplementation and integrative medicine. The popularity of best-selling author Mehmet Oz, M.D., through his regular TV appearances on Oprah is just one example. Oprah herself experienced a partial acupuncture treatment on-air.
• Consumers get it: An October 2007 survey by the Gilmore Research Group for CodeBlueNow! found that 68 percent of Iowa voters believe basic health care benefits should include coverage for any licensed health care professionals, including naturopathic physicians, acupuncturists and chiropractors.

Frank J. Lampe is executive vice president of InnoVision Health Media in Boulder, Colo., which publishes Natural Solutions: Vibrant Health, Balanced Living and three peer-reviewed medical journals focused on integrative medicine. Visit www.innovisionhm.com for more information.