Healthcare providers' flirtation with alternative medicine will blossom into a serious romance as more consumers embrace nontraditional treatment options and more of the medical staff accept them.
Adventurous physicians, allied health professionals, entrepreneurs and educators remain the biggest boosters of alternative medicine. And their cheerleading has caught the attention of hospital, health system and insurance plan chief executives, who at least wonder how alternative medicine can be melded into the continuum of care.
The devotees should concentrate their promotion efforts on two fronts-one, spelling out how alternative approaches can generate revenues for progressive providers, and two, explaining how nontraditional therapies can save money for health plans.
San Francisco bureau chief Chris Rauber's Sept. 7 story outlined why more HMOs are covering alternative medicine. In examining the risks and rewards, Rauber noted that the $24 billion-a-year alternative therapy industry still needs more outcomes research, credentialing and rigorous oversight before it can break into the medical mainstream.
Regardless, providers and insurers who ignore the alternative movement risk the erosion of market share and customer satisfaction. In Massachusetts, a group of Harvard Medical School faculty members has expanded its successful "alternative paths to health" program. In Northern California, nine of 10 Kaiser Permanente physicians have recommended alternative therapies, while nearly half the 2.8 million Kaiser enrollees in the region have tried such treatments.
It's a good time for healthcare managers to survey their patients and physicians about alternative medicine. The feedback might surprise you.