Alternative Going Mainstream? It's Only a Matter of Time!

A conference held in San Francisco in September 1996 focused on incorporating alternative health care, including massage and other body work, into the national managed health care structure. Health care professionals from across the nation included medical administrators, medical doctors, naturopathic physicians, nurses and several representatives of managed health care companies. This conference, called "Integrating Alternative Medicine and Managed Care," was not affiliated with any specific health care concern. Its objective was to provide information about the efficacy and profitability of alternative health care method­­s including therapeutic massage, acupuncture, nutritional counseling, yoga and mind/body therapy.

Most of the presenters were in agreement that it is no secret that there is a major revolt beginning against conventional medicine. Some of the reasons sighted were:

€ The public in general is beginning to believe that the current medical system is impersonal, elitist and lacking in spirit

€ The baby boomer generation is aging and as they face more medical problems, they are taking a more active approach in their own health care

€ Patients, in general, want less technology and more control in deciding what medical treatments they will receive.

Other topics discussed by presenters of managed health care were:

€ Health care providers are becoming frustrated by the limitations of conventional medicine and are seeking "softer alternatives."

€ Alternative medicine is very cost-efficient because it relies heavily on prevention.

€ It brings in money and often has better results in certain areas than allopathic medicine.

€ The possible integration of the two systems, allopathic and alternative, working under one system and used to compliment each other.

One conclusion of the conference was that more studies were needed to determine how best to utilize alternatives in today's high tech medicine. Marcel Hernandez, MD, addressed the issue of clinical studies by noting that there are thousands of studies of alternative health care that have been completed or are being undertaken in other countries but that this country's medical establishment tends to think that only the United States can complete believable, valid studies.

Managed care presenters are viewing alternative therapies as a huge area for potential growth. Sandy Mathy, vice president of American Medical Security Co., said her company is venturing into alternative care, "that our customers want to be able to choose alternative practioners for their health care needs." She went on to say "the alternative product is one that is good from the standpoint that people interested in alternative care are those who tend to stay healthy by practicing prevention and therefore have lower health care costs."

Even the mighty AMA hand a hand in this one. Speaker Joseph Jacobs, MD and former director of the OAM said their committee is investigating how the AMA can have a more positive role in integrating alternative health care into conventional medicine. "It's very important that as physicians we understand that patients will seek other modalities when they think they can't get anything more from us," Jacobs said.

My opinion, for what it's worth is that good health care should not be so difficult and shouldn't be out of the financial reach of anyone. Now that's not to say I don't think we need some guidelines. Everyone wants a Cadillac but no one wants to pay for it. We need to do the most good where it will count the most. We definitely need both systems and we need insurance companies that are willing to pay when the need is warranted. We also need to be responsible for the health of our bodies and take care of them each and everyday­­ eat well, sleep the required amount, exercise, maintain our weight, and be willing to spend a little of our own money on maintenance.

The insurance companies sell us policies that keep us from "breaking the bank" not to repair every hang nail and headache. We think nothing of spending $35-40 on a blouse or shirt; why are we so reluctant to spend that money on the care of our bodies?

If you are considering some form of alternative therapy for a health problem or as maintenance, be sure to check with your insurance company. I'm finding more and more of my clients do have at least some kinds of services available within their policies. Till next time, Rebecca

Last Modified: January 1, 1997
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