September 1999

Steering Committee for Integrative Health Care Sets New Goals

Catholic Health Initiatives’ Steering Committee for Integrative Health Care, a joint project of the Mission, Clinical Leadership and Strategy and Business Development Resource Groups, has accomplished several important goals in the past few months. These include the publication of a white paper that explains Catholic Health Initiatives’ philosophy on integrative medicine; a glossary of complementary/alternative medicine (CAM) terminology; and the inclusion of integrative medicine in Catholic Health Initiatives’ new Environmental Assessment. Jerry Broccolo, vice president of spirituality for Catholic Health Initiatives, points out that integrative medicine has a very specific meaning in the lexicon of Catholic Health Initiatives. "When many people talk about integrative health care, they use the term as a synonym for alternative therapies," he said. "But Catholic Health Initiatives’ definition of integrative health care is a comprehensive and collaborative approach to the overall well-being of the body, mind and spirit. It includes conventional medicine, spiritual or pastoral care, behavioral health and alternative modalities. This care of the whole person is part of the heritage of our Catholic sponsors." The new focus of the Steering Committee for Integrative Health Care includes physician education. "Many physicians resist integrative medicine because they are most comfortable working with modalities that are backed by large amounts of scientific data, which is not often the case with some of the CAM therapies," Broccolo said. "So we are focusing on two aspects of physician education: providing case studies and available data as to the efficacy of CAM therapies; and networking with physicians about ways they can be more comprehensive or collaborative in patient care. One example of the latter is physicians initiating brief conversations about patients’ spirituality and beliefs as integral to oncology care at CARITAS Health System in Louisville, Ky." Building relationships with physicians will be one of the activities of Milt Hammerly, MD, who recently joined Catholic Health Initiatives as part-time director of integrative medicine. He was previously medical director of complementary and alternative medicine at Centura Health, Denver, Colo., and in that capacity served on Catholic Health Initiatives’ Steering Committee for Integrative Health Care. In his new position, he will also be part of the Clinical Leadership Resource Group. Hammerly, a board-certified family practice physician, also specializes in integrating CAM with Western medicine. "There is a tremendous demand for CAM therapies today, and we need to respond by finding ways to promote collaboration and cooperation between providers of CAM and conventional medicine," Hammerly said. "The worst situation is for patients to be caught in the crossfire between feuding providers." Hammerly also sees his role as an advocate for new concepts of disease management. "When providers of conventional medicine consider best practices for the treatment of a condition, they traditionally do not consider CAM therapies," he said. "When they do, they can expand clinical protocols and treatment options to the benefit of their patients." Finally, Hammerly wants to encourage research into CAM therapies where possible. "Historically this has been difficult, because no one can patent the natural products and processes used in CAM," he said. "But if we can find a way to collect data on CAM therapies, we can move toward greater acceptance on the part of physicians and payors." Because more than 40 percent of adults in the United States use CAM therapies, Hammerly finds that many physicians are beginning to look for more information on the potential interactions between natural supplements and medicines. "There is a danger when physicians are not aware of how patients’ use of CAM therapies interact with conventional medicine," he said. "The need for information is opening the door to dialogue and greater acceptance of integrative medicine."