Hospital Use of Integrative Medicine on the Rise


Since the 1950s, Western medicine in the U.S. has increasingly been concerned with pharmaceuticals and the development of new technologies to heal and cure patients through synthesized chemicals, lasers, and surgeries. The 50s and 60s saw a national turn away from naturopathy and healing from plant substances, and towards pharmaceutical drugs which had been subject to scientific testing. Old methods and ideas about alternative healing techniques were on a steady decline throughout the last quarter of the 20th century, but recent years have seen a resurgence in alternative and Eastern medicines. Now, it seems, doctors and hospitals are also turning to the use of integrative medicine alongside their usual go-to methods, seeing a rise of what many are calling “Complementary Care” on the hospital floor.

Western Europe, some say, seemed to have developed its integrative medicine model a little more organically than the U.S. Traditional remedies often developed right alongside more modern drugs and technologies on the European continent in the 1940s and 50s, but in England and the United States, there was an almost 180 degree turn away from more traditional medicine. On the continent, patients were accustomed to seeing a nutritionist or herbalist right along with their General Practitioner. Vitamins, for example, are regulated in Germany as strictly as prescription drugs are stateside.

Many patients in the United States in the 80s and 90s, when methods like acupuncture, herbs, and avoiding certain foods were first reintroducing themselves as alternative forms of healing, found it difficult to locate reputable professionals in these more traditional remedies. They were also largely untested against the Western scientific method, so doctors and scientists were hesitant to integrate them into their more conventional patient care. Lately, however, the door seems to be opening for the idea of integrative medicine in the U.S., and the willingness of top hospitals to not only test integrative medicine therapies, but also to offer them as part of their treatment plan for patients is on the rise.

Since 2003, large hospital groups like Children’s Memorial Hospital, Cancer Centers of America and Cleveland Clinic have been starting to offer alternative health therapies alongside more aggressive western treatments in critically ill patients. The aim initially was to ease discomfort in the patient while going through invasive treatments like chemotherapy or radiation, or after surgery, but with more testing of some of these methods like acupuncture, meditation, yoga, and massage, doctors and scientists have begun to notice greater and faster healing rates as well.

In 2005, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine was founded to advise hospitals and universities about which therapies may be best for patients in terms of easing discomfort, and also to gather data on how Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM) was affecting patient care, and how many hospitals were using CAM with their patients. By 2008, NCCAM found that 27 percent of hospitals offered CAM to their patients, up sharply from eight percent in 1998. In addition, more and more medical universities have begun to offer specialties in Integrative Medicine, and have entire departments dedicated to the study of the effects of various forms of CAM on patients. Stanford University, for example, opened its Center for Integrative Medicine in 1998 and has developed programs for general practitioners, psychologists and surgeons. It has even gone as far as to design a new hospital intake form which includes CAM treatment options and asks questions relevant to potential CAM treatments the doctors and staff may recommend. Stanford and universities like it also spend dedicated research time and money on the effects of CAM on both pain relief and healing times, and publish comparative data in medical journals using control groups which have not had alternative therapies.

The rise in hospitals’ use of integrative medicine means, at the very least, that more data will become available to test its viability and usefulness on patients with chronic pain or illness. Some treatments like Yoga and meditation have already been found to have demonstrable benefits in the realms of pain management and injury rehabilitation, however some other methods like acupuncture are a long way off from being proven effective by any kind of scientific model. As institutions and hospitals like Stanford and Children’s Hospital continue to study integrative medicine and its uses in concert with western pharmaceuticals and methods, the rise in the use of these methods may continue as more data becomes available.

By Layla Klamt

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
US News
Stanford Hospitals and Clinics