Environmentalism as a value pulled me toward the job that drew me into integrative medicine 35 years ago. Part of the magnetism was learning that a primary charge in the field with which I was deciding whether to become involved was to aid and abet the healing power of nature. I surmised that such teaching would make patients of such doctors acolytes of the environment if they weren’t already. For this and other reasons, the environmental movement’s still limited embrace of the broader integrative domain as a core ally has continuously surprised me. If it is science one needs to bind these together, a recent Grand Rounds at Harvard Medical School included intriguing arguments. Peter Wayne, PhD, the interim director of that institution’s Osher Center for Integrative Medicine locked the two movements together through an array of existing, emerging and suggestive evidence.
The number of acupuncturists employed in federally qualified health centers (FQHC) is no longer negligible yet still far from routine. The number who have that experience and have also served their state as members of technology review panels charged to evaluate the science behind non-pharma approaches to pain may be just one. The person doing both in what is essentially a national pilot program in the state of Oregon is Laura Ocker, LAc. I got in touch with Ocker, the past president of the Oregon Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (OAAOM, for an acupuncture practitioner’s perspective on practicing in the context of the controversial program that led national pain leader Sean Mackey, MD, PhD` to spark a national campaign to limit its expansion. While not fond of the spotlight, Ocker agreed to share some of her experience as part of this ongoing Integrator series.
When Oregon announced in 2016 that it would shift its back and neck care for Medicaid clients from opioids toward acupuncture, spinal manipulation, massage, yoga therapy and mind-body methods, it was heralded as a breakthrough for pain treatment nationally. Inside that policy was a mandate many now consider even bigger news. Doctors were required to totally taper patients off opioids. A backlash propelled by a letter signed by over 100 conventional pain academics nationwide – plus with one notable signer from the integrative pain community – stopped Oregon’s planned expansion of the model in its tracks. While there are good reasons for caution on mandatory tapering, the one-sided reactivity missed a chance for practitioners and patients alike to gain more experience with non pharmacologic tools to rein in the known abuses associated with opioids.
Seven years ago, David Fogel, MD set the goal of proving what he hoped could be a primary care cornerstone of a transformed system of health care. With a generous philanthropic grant, he and his spouse Ilana Bar-Levav, MD created a team-based integrative health patient-centered medical home (PCMH). To give it power as a national model, the integrative PCMH was fully webbed into the emergent accountable care and value-based system. Early cost and health outcomes at their CHI Health Care significantly outperformed conventional practice metrics. They drew a visit from a US Surgeon General who was in search of innovative, value-based models. Yet now comes news that on July 23, 2019, the Center will shut its doors. An apparent guiding light for health system transformation will be snuffed. What gives?