since the late 1990s. According to Nutraceuticals World, overall sales in the health practitioner market — which comprises more than 1 million medical doctors, osteopaths, naturopathic physicians, veterinarians, and other allied healthcare professionals — increased 14% from 1997 to 2001.
Further evidence of the industry’s growth is the development of governing bodies surrounding the use of holistic therapies. While this process has been slow, Pennington says regulatory laws, licensing, and accreditation are becoming more common to help ensure that practitioners are competent and provide safe and quality services. Currently, there are regulations in each state that govern the practice of acupuncture (visit www.acupuncture.com to check the regulations in your state). Other alternative therapies are being monitored through various groups and associations. For example, the American Massage Therapy Association represents more than 54,000 massage therapists in 27 countries. Recognition of naturopathic physicians has also increased in a few states. Medical schools are underscoring the industry’s popularity by integrating complementary and alternative medicine into the curriculum, and many hospitals, including Beth Israel in New York, the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, and Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, now operate CAM centers.
Role Of The Health Insurer
Although health insurers are increasing their holistic coverage, many medical professionals still debate the safety and success rate of alternative medical practices.
“Some insurers are concerned that since there are few credible studies showing the e
ffectiveness of CAM, people who are sick will use them and their condition will worsen. They will then need more expensive, conventional treatment,” says Steve Gorman, president of Alternative Health Insurance Services, an independent health insurance brokerage company that develops benefits plans that include acupuncture and chiropractic services.
Despite concerns, a 2004 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research and Educational Trust reported that nearly 47% of employees with health benefits received coverage for acupuncture — an increase from 33% in 2002. About 87% of employees received coverage for chiropractic services up from 79% just two years prior.
Mercer Human Resource Consulting, which conducted a survey of large employers in 2003, found that 13% provided benefits for massage therapy, 7% covered a technique called biofeedback, and another 7% covered homeopathy.
Increased consumer demand and employer interest in offering a low-cost option to benefits packages are driving the increase in coverage. Also priming the benefits pump are more studies on efficacy and growing evidence that CAM coverage reduces employers’ overall healthcare costs.
One such study, published last year in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found acupuncture to be more effective than conventional treatment for short-term relief of chronic lower back pain.
Though holistic practitioners are becoming more popular, selecting one still requires careful consideration and research. Here are some guidelines you can follow to find a practitioner that’s right for you:
Define your purpose. Virtually any health condition can be approached using holistic medicine. Before committing to any one practitioner, determine what you are looking to achieve and consider the reasons why modern medicine by itself may not be the right option for you. According to the 2002 National Center for Complementary