Alternative Goes Mainstream

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While some hospitals like Hartford Hospital make it work regardless of location, not every hospital is ready to embrace integrative medicine. A successful program requires a physician champion to drive its efforts, and physicians haven't always been the first to embrace this type of care. Hospitals can struggle with building a referral network because physicians in the community aren't used to referring patients to holistic types of services. "Physicians coming out of school recognize the value in these integrative programs because it is part of their curriculum, but physicians close to retirement age may not be acquainted with holistic medicine," Corvino says.

Alternative alternatives

Hospitals not ready to open a full-service integrative medicine program should at least add some holistic-style approaches that are inexpensive and easy to implement, Bauer recommends. A growing number of hospitals offer some type of alternative care, including guided imagery and meditation CDs, video on demand channels dedicated to relaxation and quiet music, and stress management classes.

"We sometimes forget there are a lot of good things in the mind-body realm that are inexpensive and can be implemented pretty easily and can have a pretty profound impact," Bauer says.

Molly Rowe is leadership editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at

Making it Happen

Hospitals thinking of adding alternative care to their service options should follow four main guidelines, says Henri Roca, medical director of Greenwich's Center for Integrative Medicine:

  • Leadership: Leadership must be committed to the program because it requires a shift in the entire hospital culture. "If you're just doing this to look at it as some sort of a cash cow, then it's going to be much more challenging than if you're actually committed to a shift in the quality and system of care," Roca says.
  • The long view: Leaders shouldn't expect a start-up clinic to become self-sustaining within a year or even two, Roca says. "You have to be committed for a long time."
  • Community outreach and evaluation: "You have to let people know there's another way to pursue healthcare, with health and wellness as the outcome . that there's value, and this can improve their health," Roca says.
  • Sustainability: Some organizations will have to start small and test to see which services are most desired. "At the very least, any hospital system can convert any of their hospital-owned clinics into holistic and integrative clinics just by working on the perspective and style of care of their providers," Roca says.
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