Several prestigious U.S. hospitals are promoting alternative therapy treatments that have little to no scientific backing, likely due to consumer demand.
Excerpt: “They’re among the nation’s premier medical centers, at the leading edge of scientific research. Yet hospitals affiliated with Yale, Duke, Johns Hopkins, and other top medical research centers also aggressively promote alternative therapies with little or no scientific backing. They offer ‘energy healing’ to help treat multiple sclerosis, acupuncture for infertility, and homeopathic bee venom for fibromyalgia. … This embrace of alternative medicine has been building for years. But a STAT examination of 15 academic research centers across the US underscores just how deeply these therapies have become embedded in prestigious hospitals and medical schools.
“Some hospitals have built luxurious, spa-like wellness centers to draw patients for spiritual healing, homeopathy, and more. And they’re promoting such treatments for a wide array of conditions, including depression, heart disease, cancer, and chronic pain. … Just in the past year, the teaching hospital connected to the University of Florida began offering cancer patients consultations in homeopathy and traditional Chinese herbal medicine. Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia launched an institute whose offerings include intravenous vitamin and mineral therapies. And the University of Arizona, a pioneer in the field, received a $1 million gift to boost practitioner training in natural and spiritual healing techniques.”
“The rise of alternative therapies has sparked tension in some hospitals, with doctors openly accusing their peers of peddling snake oil and undermining the credibility of their institutions. By promoting such therapies, [professor of neurology at Yale School of Medicine, Dr. Steven] Novella said, physicians are forfeiting ‘any claim that we had to being a science-based profession.’”
“There’s no question that patients want alternative medicine. It’s a $37 billion-a-year business. The typical American adult spent about $800 out of pocket in 2012 on dietary supplements and visits to alternative providers, such as naturopaths and acupuncturists, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hospitals have taken note. A national consortium to promote integrative health now counts more than 70 academic centers and health systems as members, up from eight in 1999.”
“‘The people running the hospitals are doctors, but they also have MBAs. They talk of patients as customers. Customers have demands. Your job is to sell them what they want,’ said Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at New York University’s medical school. Too often, he said, the attitude is, ‘We’re damn well going to do it if the guys down the street are doing it.’”
WBB Take: A foundational principle in healthcare improvement is that value must be customer-focused, and also be grounded in reality. Policies, medical interventions, and quality improvements should be evidence-based and seek to improve patient outcomes. Pandering to superstition may increase patient satisfaction in the short term, but ultimately leads to bad health outcomes, increased cost, and reduced access. For every dollar and minute spent on fictitious remedies, there is a missed opportunity to apply evidence-based medicine. As things stand, evidence-based medicine already comes with risks, errors, and side-effects, and as an industry we are already trying hard to improve quality, and reduce risk and waste. Adding costly placebo interventions to the mix only adds to the problem, and worsens the outlook. As an industry, we must embrace the basic tenet of primum non nocere, and placebos masquerading as treatment is nocere, in spades!