Most providers skeptical toward alternative care

Some groups test the waters

Although a few physician groups are integrating alternative care into their practices (see related stories on pp. 50-52), most physician organizations are intrigued by the concept of alternative care but have done little in the way of becoming involved in it, according to the results of an informal telephone survey conducted by Physician's Managed Care Report.

"A lot of my patients use various alternative therapies, and many have questions about how it will interact with their other medications," says Jane Marmor, MD, an oncologist with Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City, CA, and chair of the technical advisory committee on alternative therapies for the California Medical Association. "Basically, we don't have enough information to determine this yet; the [clinical] information largely isn't there. For example, herbal medications are sold as nutritional supplements, so they're not regulated like prescription drugs."

The goals of Marmor's committee are to determine which health plans in the state are offering coverage of alternative medical treatments, and to formulate an appropriate policy for the California Medical Association.

One group that has decided to test the alternative care waters is Los Angeles-based HealthCare Partners, a 300-physician integrated delivery system that offers its own HMO. The system began offering acupuncture treatments to its patients six months ago, in response to patient requests and interest from a staff physician trained in acupuncture, says William Chin, MD, executive medical director. "Sometimes by just having it [alternative care] as a possibility, it attracts patients," he says.

Chin says it's too early to tell if the group will continue to offer acupuncture.