In times of old, healthcare executives could dismiss alternative medicine as New Age hocus-pocus.
Those days are over. The alternative-therapy movement is a booming business that has drawn widespread acceptance from millions of Americans convinced it is every bit as effective as conventional medicine in improving health or dealing with sickness and pain.
In response to this tidal wave of a trend, healthcare systems should consider ways to integrate alternative medicine into their care continuums. In addition, insurers should review their reimbursement policies for treatment options once considered too offbeat.
The first step is defining alternative medicine. The most common forms are chiropractic, massage and relaxation therapies. The category also includes herbal therapies, megavitamins, exercise programs, spiritual therapy and folk remedies. Consumers likely will spend about $5 billion on alternative medicine this year, most of it out-of-pocket. And many of the true believers are affluent and highly educated, the cream of the patient base.
As alternative medicine moves into the mainstream, providers should properly research the clinical effectiveness of the therapies and their interactions with conventional treatments.
Furthermore, providers should learn more about the patients who use alternative healthcare so they can pinpoint their marketing plans. A study in the May 20 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association indicates that alternative medicine patients are less satisfied with conventional healthcare, demonstrate a greater desire to exercise personal control over health matters and have a holistic philosophical orientation to health.
Healthcare systems that plan to develop an integrated system of care must offer programs and services that appeal to this significant segment of the market.