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Home > Two Studies, One Aim: Can Alternative Care be Both Medically and Cost Effective?

Two Studies, One Aim: Can Alternative Care be Both Medically and Cost Effective?

August 22, 2007 703.517.2422


One study finds a holistic approach reduces the need for medication in
Sierra Tucson’s Eating Disorders Program;
Second study to measure benefits of acupuncture for acute care patients
in Los Angeles’ Good Samaritan Hospital

(Palm Springs, CA) – Two disparate health studies have one thing in common: they aim to evaluate the effect of combining conventional and alternative care on health quality and cost. In the first study, researchers evaluated the use of an integrative medicine approach (treating the person as a whole rather than a specific disease) in an Eating Disorders Program. The study focused on insomnia and constipation (two large problems in this population) and found that as compared to the previous program, the integrative medicine program reduced the need for sleep medications from 55 percent to 11 percent. The second study, getting underway in Los Angeles, will, over the next 18 months, offer acupuncture services to a large sample of acute care patients facing a number of diagnoses. Studies have found that acupuncture can be cost effective.

The studies are the work of two teams. The first is entitled, “Impact of Supplements on Sleep Quality and Constipation in an Eating Disorders Program.” It was conducted by Dr. Carolyn Ross, MD, MPH, of Sierra Tucson, and Dr. Patricia Herman, ND, MS, of the University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ. The second study, entitled “Inpatient Acupuncture Implementation and Assessment Program,” is being conducted by Dr. Jeannette Painovich, LAc, DAOM, Emperors College of Traditional Oriental Medicine; Ron Greeno, MD, and Jorge Minor, MD, both of Good Samaritan Hospital, Los Angeles, CA; and Patricia Herman. Dr. Herman is providing an update on the findings and methodology, respectively, of these studies at the 22nd annual meeting of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP; www.Naturopathic.org). The conference will be held at the Palm Springs Convention Center, Palm Springs, CA, August 22-25, 2007.

Study 1: An Integrative Approach to Treating Eating Disorders
Herman designed the study and conducted the analysis of the integrative medicine eating disorders program at Sierra Tucson (http://www.SierraTucson.com), a widely regarded inpatient behavioral disorder and addiction treatment center in Tucson, AZ. The study compared reported insomnia and constipation and recorded sleep and constipation medication use between patients on the previous eating disorders program and patients on the new integrative medicine program. The integrative medicine protocol consists of a combination of dietary supplements, and alternative therapies such as acupuncture, Shiatsu, and massage. This integrative approach was used in concert with conventional treatments and medications prescribed for those in treatment for eating disorders. The study compared data from patients admitted during two six-month periods—one before and one after the implementation of the integrative medicine program.

After the study review board approval, the researcher reviewed charts to see if an integrated approach had any effect on patient’s reported symptoms and use of conventional medications. Sleep quality remained consistently high on the new program and the requests for prescription sleep medications dropped from 55 percent to 11 percent. In addition, reports of constipation and the use of conventional constipation medication both dropped significantly. According to Dr. Ross, the Chief of the Eating Disorders Program at Sierra Tucson “we are excited by these results, but even more by the benefits to our patients in terms of reduced barriers to refeeding and increased energy and attention on the work needed for recovery.”
Study 2: Acupuncture for Hospitalized Patients: Patient and Cost Effectiveness
The second is being rolled out at LA’s Good Samaritan Hospital (GSH), an affiliate of the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine. Herman, who helped design the study and will evaluate the data after the 18-month pilot project is complete, said the team anticipates providing acupuncture treatments to 500 patients with a variety of diagnoses. These include heart attack, congestive heart failure, stroke, coronary artery bypass surgery, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, laminectomy, and hip and knee replacements. Herman will lead the analysis of the cost, quality, and patient satisfaction assessment of the study, which will include a review of patients who were hospitalized in the previous year with similar diagnoses before acupuncture was available.

The study is unique in that (1) it occurs in a hospital setting, (2) it is available to patients with a wide variety of diagnoses, and (3) it tests the effects of offering acupuncture, and so will capture patient acceptance as well as the effects of acupuncture itself. According to Dr. Painovich, “I am pleased that Good Samaritan hospital was willing to be part of a project that is one of the deepest integrations of complementary and conventional medicine in the nation. I believe there is a wealth of knowledge to be gained from this study, and most importantly, the opportunity to achieve a better understanding of how to provide the best of collaborative care for the patient and the healthcare system as a whole."

Is Complementary and Alternative (CAM) Medicine Cost Effective?
Herman is the primary author of “Is Complementary and Alternative (CAM) Medicine Cost Effective? A Systematic Review.” The article, published in 2005, concludes that it can be, but there are still too few studies. The health and cost outcomes of promising complementary and alternative therapies, like those discussed above, must be evaluated if the nation’s healthcare system is going to be able to meet the challenges of the future.


Naturopathic physicians are trained in the art and science of natural healthcare at accredited medical colleges. Integrative partnerships between conventional medical doctors and licensed naturopaths are becoming more available. This cooperation makes more effective therapies available to consumers. It increases patient satisfaction in their relationships with their care providers. More people are recovering their health by adding naturopathic medicine to their health care options.

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NOTE TO EDITORS: Members of the media are invited to attend the conference, being held at Palm Springs Convention Center, Palm Springs, CA. To arrange an interview with Dr. Herman, please contact Donna Nunn at 703-517-2422 or AANPMeeting2007@aol.com. To arrange an interview with Dr. Ross of Sierra Tucson, call her at 1-800-842-4487