Survey: Steady Increase in Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM) Offerings in U.S. Hospitals

According to a survey released last fall by the Health Forum, a subsidiary of the American Hospital Association, and the Samueli Institute of Alexandria, Va., complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) services in responding hospitals increased to 42% in 2010 from 37% in 2007.

The fourth Complementary and Alternative Medicine Survey of Hospitals is a follow-up report to the 2007 survey, which The Hospitalist featured in January 2010.

Twelve percent of 5,858 hospitals answered a 42-question instrument in 2010, according to Sita Ananth, MHA, director of knowledge services at the Samueli Institute and study report author. The results, Ananth says, showed that the hospitals most likely to offer CAM were urban and tended to be either medium-size (50-299 beds) or large (500+ beds) institutions.

What’s driving the increase? She believes that hospitals are simply responding to patients’ desire to have “the best that both conventional and alternative medicine can offer.”

Ananth [Hospitals undertaking complementary services should] start small and not have high expectations of breaking even for several years.

—Sita Ananth, MHA, director of knowledge services at the Samueli Institute and study report author

Sixty-five percent of hospitals responding to the survey offer CAM therapies for pain management. That figure is echoed in a 2008 National Health Statistics report (PDF) published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Back pain, neck pain, and joint pain were the three top reasons for using CAM, according to the CDC report.

“Adjacent” Treatment

Hospitalist Sanjay Reddy, MD, assistant clinical professor of medicine in the Department of Medicine at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF), says acupuncture can be a valuable adjunct when treating patients for pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea, and insomnia. He is a trained acupuncturist and has studied complementary therapies extensively. He also is interested in exploring ways to incorporate acupuncture into the UCSF’s Osher Center for Integrative Medicine program.

David H. Gorski, MD, PhD, FACS, associate professor of surgery and director of the Breast Cancer Multidisciplinary Team at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, strenuously objects to the incorporation of alternative therapies (often under the moniker of “integrative medicine”) in the hospital setting.

“If you accept the premise that medicine should be based in sound science and evidence, then we have an obligation not to be offering treatments that are not based in science,” he asserts. Dr. Gorski, who also blogs on such topics, finds that many of those who endorse integrative medicine have become “true believers,” and that some are mixing pseudo-science with science.chart

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