By Debra Wood, RN, contributor
More hospitals than ever are now offering complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) modalities in addition to traditional medical care, according to a recent report from the American Hospital Association (AHA).
“It seems to be driven by patient demand,” said Sita Ananth, MHA, author of the American Hospital Association report and director of knowledge services at Optimal Healing Environments, The Samueli Institute, in Alexandria, Virginia. “Hospitals are responding to the needs and requests of their patients and the community.”
Deborah Larrimore, RN, BSN, performs healing touch on a patient.
The survey shows more than 37 percent of the 280 responding hospitals offered one or more CAM therapies to patients or employees, up from 26.5 percent in 2005. Services include acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy, herbal medicine, massage therapy, aromatherapy and healing touch. Eighty-four percent of the hospitals reported patient demand as the primary reason for offering CAM services.
Hospitals have become more interested in CAM modalities, agreed Deborah Larrimore, RN, BSN, director of the healing touch education program at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Wake Forest has begun educating nurses and physicians in CAM techniques, including healing touch. Larrimore also offers healing touch to patients who request it, but the hospital has not fully implemented the service yet, due to a lack of sufficiently trained nurses to provide the intervention.
Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s physician group established its Center for Integrative Medicine and Wellness more than a decade ago. Clinicians manage acute and chronic conditions with both traditional allopathic care and holistic approaches.
Cardiac nurse practitioner Anne Darga, RN, MS, explains that she and Stephen Devries, MD, employ acupuncture, massage therapy, stress management and other techniques, but at the same time they will prescribe cardiac drugs. Sometimes, the medication offers an immediate, needed intervention while the patient incorporates lifestyle changes that will help manage his or her condition.
“It’s more of a nursing approach, a holistic approach,” Darga said. “That approach to patients is becoming more acceptable in medicine as well.”
Physician resistance seems to be abating, Ananth agreed. Physicians referred 77 percent of patients seeking CAM services, according to the AHA study.
Susan Stone, RN, Ph.D.,reports nurses seek out employment at Sharp Coronado because the facility embraces holistic care.
Massage therapy was the most common outpatient CAM service offered by hospitals responding to the AHA survey (54 percent), down from 71 percent in 2005. Pet therapy was the most common inpatient CAM service, at 46 percent. It was not ranked in 2005.
More than half the hospitals, 56 percent, said their CAM programs were not expected to make money.
“It’s hard to make money and it takes a long time to make money,” Ananth said. “There are programs that have been around for 10 years that are finally now breaking even.”
Ananth noted that hospitals typically view CAM as part of fulfilling their mission to address mind, body and spiritual issues. Eighty-six percent of hospitals assess the success of their CAM programs by patient satisfaction reports.
“For nurses, the ability to offer this whole-person, patient-centered approach is very rewarding,” Ananth explained. “Hospitals report that nurses feel this is the right thing to do for their patients. And employees are a large percentage of the utilizers of these services.”
Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland, gives employees $25 off services at its Medi-Spa, which offers inpatient and outpatient massage, acupuncture, Reiki, and other services aimed at empowering the body to heal itself. Donna Chang, RN, BSN, director of the Mercy Medi-Spa, said that employee surveys show staff appreciate the benefit. It also gives nurses an opportunity to try complementary therapies, allowing them to better describe the treatments to patients.
“But even if you have not experienced complementary and alternative medicine, don’t rule out that it will benefit others,” Chang said. “We get testimonials from patients stating that acupuncture or other wellness services alleviated many of their symptoms.”
Ananth called nurses “huge champions of these activities,” and she feels that nurses are helpful in keeping the programs going. In some cases, nurses provide the services.
Nurses at Sharp Coronado Hospital in Coronado, California, offer patients comfort massage, aromatherapy and healing touch during rounds—a program that began in 2003. Susan Stone, RN, Ph.D., chief nursing operating officer at Sharp Coronado, said initially nurses pushed back, not sure that these modalities were nursing functions. However, now they embrace it.
“It goes back to the basic human-touch element of healing,” Stone said.
The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, New Jersey, trains every nurse on staff in a foundation of CAM techniques, including bodywork therapy, aromatherapy, visualization and meditation. Nurses began offering it at no-cost in 2002 and patients and nurses have embraced it.
“It makes a major difference in patients’ hospitalization,” said Linda Lewis, RN, MSA, NEA-BC, FACHE, vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer at The Valley Hospital. “It helps patients to relax and I think that allows them to heal faster.”
Lewis believes CAM builds customer loyalty and helps with nurse recruitment and retention.
“One of the biggest draws for us for recruitment is the holistic practice we have here that is part of nursing practice, not a separate department,” Lewis said. “It changes how they approach not only their professional life but their personal life.”
© 2009. AMN Healthcare, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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