Once derided by traditionalists as quackery, alternative medicine is slowly being embraced by hospitals, physicians and health plans.
Little more than a fringe element in American healthcare just a quarter-century ago, alternative medicine-also known as complementary, holistic or integrative medicine-represents a $22 billion-per-year market, according to industry estimates. And that lucrative market is likely only to grow as hospitals and health plans expand their services to include a wide range of new treatment options.
A survey published in the Journal of the American Medical Association said Americans made 629 million visits to alternative-care providers in 1997-a 47% jump from the 427 million visits seven years earlier. A survey conducted one year later found that more than 60% of Americans used some form of alternative healthcare.
More surprising, perhaps, is increased interest and awareness of alternative medicine by hospitals. From 1998 to 1999, the number of community hospitals offering complementary medicine services increased by one-third to more than 11%, according to the American Hospital Association.
Indeed, late last year, the Health Forum, an AHA subsidiary, announced a joint project with Integrative Medicine Communications, an information-services company, to help hospitals meet the growing demand for complementary therapies such as acupuncture, massage, yoga and biofeedback. The reason: simple economics and demand.