Integrative Care: Wellness Programs In Hospitals Improve Quality of Life
Years ago my son took a bad fall and broke his leg in three places. I still remember that horrible night in the ER as they tried to stabilize his leg before surgery. As the doctors manipulated the broken bones, the nurse told my son to hold his breath.
Of course, with multiple broken bones and being rightfully scared, that didn’t alleviate the pain or calm him down.
Instead, I told him to take a big breath in, and then slowly exhale the whole time the doctor was touching his leg. He was still in pain, but the deep breathing with an elongated exhale helped him to calm down and not be quite as afraid.
The nurse was amazed at how quickly the deep breathing helped my son. She said she was going to use that technique with future patients instead of encouraging them to hold their breath. I’m not sure if the nurse ever used deep breathing in a trauma situation again, but hospitals around the country are turning to yoga and other holistic health practices to add to their patients’ care.
Integrative Care Catches On
The current American health care system focuses on disease, rather than on disease prevention and wellness. However, numerous studies have shown that lifestyle-based diseases such as obesity, type II diabetes and cardiac disease can be prevented and often reversed with a holistic health approach including diet and exercise.
However, a growing trend among larger hospitals nationwide is the development of integrative medicine, combining complementary therapies such as yoga and meditation with more traditional care. Part spa experience, part educational and support group opportunity, these integrative medicine centers strive to treat the whole person body, mind, and spirit, not just the disease.
Jacqueline Wallace is 60 years young and one year out from an aggressive form of stage four cancer. She credits both her faith and the cancer center’s wellness program with her recovery.
“They had an exercise program and you got prizes for exercising. So every day I would walk my laps and collect my exercise chips. When I earned enough free chips I got a free bandana,” said Wallace.
Wallace says she also spent time every day in the hospital’s chapel/meditation room. Although most of the patients on her floor were too sick to participate in other wellness programs, she says that keeping her faith, her mind stress-free and her body moving was key to helping her beat cancer.
Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham North Carolina, lists the principles of integrative medicine as:
The patient and practitioner are partners in the healing process.
All factors that influence health, wellness and disease are taken into consideration, including body, mind, spirit, and community.
Providers use all healing sciences to facilitate the body’s innate healing response.
Effective interventions that are natural and less invasive are used whenever possible.
Good medicine is based on good science. It is inquiry driven and open to new paradigms.
Alongside the concept of treatment, the broader concepts of health promotion and the prevention of illness are paramount.
The care is personalized to best address the individual’s unique conditions, needs, and circumstances. Practitioners of integrative medicine exemplify its principles and commit themselves to self-exploration and self-development.
Old Modalities Become New Again
Although integrative medicine is a relatively new concept in hospital centers, it includes centuries old practices such as yoga, acupuncture, Tai Chi, massage therapy and meditation. Patients are encouraged to use the integrative tools they have learned for continued self-care after traditional medical therapy is completed.
One year post-treatment and Jacqueline is in the gym daily, lifting weights, enjoying the sauna and encouraging and inspiring other gym members.
Peer-reviewed scientific research is foundational to the development and continued enhancement of integrative medicine. Recent research studies completed at Duke University include massage benefits for arthritis, meditation-based treatment for binge eating and stress-reduction training to improve sleep quality.
Englewood Hospital and Medical Center in Englewood, New Jersey, offers integrative medical opportunities to minimize nausea from treatment, reduce pain and reduce stress and anxiety. As well as yoga and massage therapy, the Graf Center for Integrative Medicine also offers Reiki, which is a Japanese technique of laying on hands to direct life-force energy.
While new and still developing, more doctors and hospitals are finding a place for integrative medicine. However, all agree integrative medicine should not be in competition with traditional medicine, but rather as a compliment to physician-prescribed care.