October/November 1999

Advice for Integrative Medicine Programs

Based on its experience in expanding its Integrative Health & Medicine Center through a Catholic Health Initiatives grant, TriHealth has helpful advice for other market-based organizations engaged in or considering similar initiatives:
  • Consider how to position integrative health within the organization. While the optimal structure is different for every organization, make sure that integrative health will have visibility, administrative support and an alignment with the medical staff.
  • Create a formal business plan. A business plan can provide solid financial expectations and a road map for implementation to ensure that staff, practitioners, board members, physicians and administrators agree on future direction.
  • Develop an effective infrastructure to ensure service excellence and successful marketing. Policies, operating procedures and systems must be in place to deliver the efficient, professional service physicians and consumers demand.
  • Balance the goal of contributing to a more holistic model of health care with the goal of becoming a self-supporting line of business. "This balance is not easy to achieve," said Lebanowski.
  • Learn from other successful business models. Look to other businesses, including salons and spas, physician and dental practices and retail operations, for service and marketing ideas.
  • Remember that the goal is to create a new model for health care. "The ideal is a center where practitioners of both conventional and CAM modalities work side by side as a fully integrated care team, learning from one another how to best improve health," said Wiesner.
  • Look for opportunities to integrate with the larger organization. Use routine meetings with other departments as an opportunity to educate other parts of the organization about integrative health and medicine.
  • Have a clear vision. Involve staff, practitioners and medical advisors in articulating the ideal future of the integrative health initiative.
  • Start small and optimize existing space while building client volumes. However, be sure that the environment is clean, attractive and adds to the integrative health experience.
  • Begin with a pricing structure based on self-pay. "It is important to look at what you can do for inpatients, but there is no way to collect reimbursement for those services," said Wiesner. "Most hospitals need to focus on making integrative medicine an outpatient service, at least to begin with."
  • Make marketing a significant part of operational strategies. It will be necessary to educate many consumers about integrative health and medicine. A continuous marketing effort is especially critical in markets that have competing providers of integrative health care.