Alternative/traditional: A powerful blend

Forecast: Integrated care to be standard practice

Alternative therapies aren’t new to women’s health. What’s new is the growing consumer insistence on the integration of alternative and conventional medicine in the same facility. This is good news to many women’s health providers who have long known that each model holds elegant solutions for certain types of women’s health needs.

"It’s the health care of the future," predicts Jan Adkins-Hearn, RN, CHTP, program manager at St. Luke’s Women’s Care in Cedar Rapids, IA. She credits baby boom women for the resurgence of interest in alternative or complementary medicine. "They’re sophisticated," she notes, "and they want many options."

Jo L. Wheeler, MS, RN, ANP, adult nurse practitioner at the Women’s HealthCare Center, attributes the "clamoring from the grass roots" to a rising disillusionment with pharmaceutical side effects from traditional Western approaches to illness. Wheeler’s facility is at the Medical College of Virginia, based at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

Adkins-Hearn adds, "There comes a time in traditional medicine when we don’t have anything else to offer. Many women come to us after they’ve tried it. In fact, most research shows that women seek out complementary medicine in conjunction with the traditional."

Each approach has different goals. "Traditional medicine is about curing," explains Adkins-Hearn. Some conditions such as fibromyalgia have no cure, and that’s where holistic therapies shine. "They’re about healing, and healing can always happen," she says, because alternatives address the mind, body, and spirit. (For tips on creating an alternative therapy component for your program, see story, "How to tap the market for alternative therapies," p. 142.)

Solid grounding for holistic practice

Certified in healing touch, Adkins-Hearn works to relieve pain and speed wound healing. Other alternatives at St. Luke’s Women’s are massage therapy, yoga, and consultation on herbal remedies. She is adamant in her conviction that best holistic practice is grounded in the technology of conventional Western medicine. Cece Huffnagle, NP, of Wellspring for Women in Boulder, CO, agrees. "We must measure everything against the plumb line of medical evidence," she urges.

Although some complementary therapies haven’t passed the rigors of conventional medical studies, diet and exercise are areas where the two approaches meet. Sadja Greenwood, MD, MPH, assistant clinical professor at the University of California at San Francisco’s Medical Center and author of the book Menopause, Naturally (Volcano Press, Volcano, CA), explains that good alternative and conventional practices don’t always contradict one another.

Nutrition counseling, she adds, "has been ignored by the medical profession," though it’s an essential — and proven — staple of complementary therapy. On that note, she assures the hesitant, "You don’t have to go into never-never land and start bringing in things that have no scientific validation."

Not a penny on commercial advertising

Wellspring started in early 1995 and Women’s Care in early 1996. To date, neither program has spent a penny on commercial advertising. What’s more, clients usually pay out of pocket for complementary therapies.

In Wellspring’s early days, Huffnagle gained exposure through community speaking engagements. Patients came through groups such as churches, hospital wellness seminars, teacher’s associations, and women’s garden clubs. Now that she sees an average of 30 clients during a typical four-day work week, there’s less time for speaking.

"The bottom line in marketing is word of mouth," says Huffnagle, "and you know women — they’re wonderful at networking."

Clients file their own claims

Wellspring clients pay upfront, $150 for initial 50-minute assessments and $60 each for two follow-ups at six-week intervals. Though some insurance plans reimburse for alternative therapies and some don’t, Huffnagle leaves it to clients to file claims. This enables her to provide service at affordable rates.

At Women’s Care, the alternative therapy clientele has grown strictly by word of mouth. In addition to her regular nursing care, Adkins-Hearn conducts 20 to 30 healing touch encounters a month. Clients pay $40 an hour for massage and healing touch.

"I think our blend of traditional and alternative medicine represents where health care is going to be five or ten years from now," she says. ß