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Integration: Containing Costs


By Scott Fields

Published Jul 1, 2012 8:00 PM

This fusion of East and West strategies is saving money and solving problems in the world of health.

There is one factor facilitating the rise of integrative medicine in the United States that has nothing to do with health: cost containment.

"All of a sudden, this has become mainstream, partially because of economic reasons," says gastroenterologist Emeran A. Mayer, director of the Gail and Gerald Oppenheimer Family Center for Neurobiology of Stress. "Integrative medicine is inexpensive, keeps people out of the hospital and keeps them well, so you don't have the big expenses. ... If you have back pain, not everyone has to have an MRI."

"We see driving costs down as absolutely crucial," adds David Feinberg, associate vice chancellor of UCLA Health Sciences and CEO of the UCLA Health System. "We've had a system based on volume, where the more procedures you do and the more complex it is, the more you get paid. Now we're going to a system based on value—meaning high quality and good outcomes for low cost."

According to Lawrence Taw M.D. '01, assistant clinical professor at the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine: "The reason Western medical costs are so high is that problems aren't solved," he says. "In an effort to try to see what's going on, we end up repeating some of the same tests and we try multiple medications that don't work. Patients whose symptoms don't respond end up going to the emergency room or urgent care."

Then there's the problem of Western medicine's overuse of surgery. According to Ka-Kit Hui '71, M.D. '75, the founder and director of the East-West Medicine center: "In acute cases, when the body is in trauma, surgery can be very necessary. But some surgeries may not be needed at all. Stimulating the body with less invasive intervention such as acupuncture will generally do as good a job in solving quite a number of less acute or severe problems."

"Integrative medicine has more of a problem-solving approach," Taw adds. "Getting to know your patient gives you a better chance of bringing that person back to health."