"Integrated Medicine" Could Boost Your Income

By Grandinetti, Deborah A. | Medical Economics, September 8, 1997 | Go to article overview

"Integrated Medicine" Could Boost Your Income


Grandinetti, Deborah A., Medical Economics


Americans spent $13.7 billion on unconventional therapies in 1990-threequarters of it out of pocketaccording to a 1993 report in The New England Journal of Medicine. There were more visits to providers of unconventional care than to all primary-care doctors combined.

The public's increasing acceptance of non-mainstream therapies has led to the formation of practices that blend alternative with allopathic medicine-including two national medical chains. Backers of these ventures call the hybrid "integrated medicine," a term first used in 1983 by San Rafael, Calif., general practitioner Elson M. Haas. ("Integrative medicine" and "blended medicine" are other names given to this variegated model.) There's a growing number of such practices throughout the United States, but none as ambitious as American WholeHealth and Complete Wellness Centers.

American WholeHealth was founded in 1993 by internist David Edelberg as the Chicago Holistic Center. The company, headquartered in Reston, Va., now has clinics in Chicago, Denver, and suburban Washington, D.C., and plans to expand to at least 10 metropolitan areas over the next few years. The typical AWH practice offers internal medicine, family medicine, chiropractic, acupuncture, nutritional counseling, massage therapy, herbology, homeopathy, and clinical psychology. All care is coordinated by a primary-care physician.

Last year, AWH won the backing of two venture-capital firms, which recruited management talent with experience in the upper echelons of Marriott International Inc., The Walt Disney Co., and SRI Gallup. (This year, the company raised more than 200 percent of the $8 million it sought during a second round of financing.) The firm has seven allopathic physicians on board and expects to hire several more this year as it opens clinics in two undisclosed locations.

Complete Wellness Centers, a physician practice management company founded by former Maryland Congressman Tom McMillen, has experienced rapid growth since last year, when it opened seven clinics in Florida. It has 61 clinics-seven in fitness centersand expects to open another 63 soon. The organization helps existing practices become multidisciplinary practices; it also provides ongoing practice management services. (CWC does not purchase assets, but creates partnerships through lease arrangements, thus allowing the physician to retain ownership of the practice.) Some practices include a physical therapist, and more modalities may be added later, says company spokeswoman Victoria Harris. CWC's fiveyear plan, Harris notes, is to start 1,000 clinics nationwide. Patients who want to find a CWC clinic in their area can call a toll-free number for information.

If current trends continue, you could soon be competing for patients against alternative healers at large HMOs, too. Kaiser Permanente in Northern California, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound in Washington, and Oxford Health Plans in the greater New York area all have organized programs. And in a 1996 survey of HMOs in 13 states conducted by Landmark Healthcare, 58 percent said they plan to offer alternative care within the next two years.

They're responding to a well-documented demand. American WholeHealth attracted so many patients initially that it outgrew its quarters in six months. Women to Women, a Maine OB/Gyn clinic staffed by three physicians, two nurse practitioners, and a nurse midwife who are all versed in blended medicine, more than doubled its patient base in a year, even though consultants had told the founders that the area couldn't support another practice. The medical-supply company that sold them office equipment said it had never seen a practice grow so fast, according to nurse practitioner Marcelle Pick, who founded the clinic with OB/Gyn Christiane Northrup.

At a time when scientific advances have widened the scope of mainstream medicine, why are people flocking to hybrid practices? …

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