The New, Oldest way

Health Care Providers blend modern medicine with alternative, complementary methods

February, 2001

Maureen O’Shaughnessy is an instructor and master of Reiki, a centuries-old healing process that absorbs energy from the universe and channels the flow into a person’s body. In addition to offering corporate seminars on stress management and health, she conducts Reiki classes at Kapiolani Women’s Center and in her home in Kaimuki. “My guess is that within a decade, people will be turning to Reiki as much as they’ll be using massage therapy as a form of healing,” says O’Shaughnessy, who has taught at least 700 students in the past five years. She estimates there are “several hundred” Reiki masters in Hawaii. Dr. Victor Tan, a former award-winning acrobat from Harbin, China, is a licensed acupuncturist who blends his practice with massage therapy and Chinese herbal medicine. He and his wife, Elena, opened Dragon Chi Clinic on Kalakaua Avenue four years ago and today treat between seven to a dozen patients daily.

“Chinese medicine is 5,000 years old, but Western forms of medicine have a shorter history,” Tan says. He is among a growing number of acupuncturists across the nation. Licensed acupuncturists in the United States rose from 5,525 to 10,512 between 1992 and 1998, according to the National Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Alliance. “When I first came to Hawaii five years ago, I thought it would take another 10 to 20 years for people to understand Chinese medicine,” he says.

Like acupuncture, complementary alternative methods, such as yoga, meditation and traditional Hawaiian healing, have exploded in popularity. From 1990 to 1997, total visits to complementary, alternative practitioners in the U.S. rose by 47 percent, surpassing total visits to primary care physicians. The American Medical Association estimates that out-of-pocket expenditures related to complementary, alternative medicine—such as literature, professional services and training—amounted to $27 billion in 1997. Herbal and supplement usage in the U.S. alone grew roughly 18 percent annually over the past three years, according to national studies.

It’s not that patients have ditched modern physicians for ancient ways. The medical association estimates only 4 percent of patients solely rely on complementary, alternative medicine; meanwhile, the majority of people blend non-traditional healing with regular trips to the doctor. The most popular complementary, alternative medical practices in Hawaii are acupuncture, chiropractic treatment, massage therapy and naturopathy, according to the Hawaiian State Consortium for Integrative Healthcare.

To accommodate patients, healthcare insurers are updating their policies. “Most conventional health insurance companies in the last two years realized that if they didn’t do lip service, or at least showed that they cared, they were going to lose market share,” says Dr. Ira D. Zunin, chairman and president of the consortium. There are other reasons why health insurance companies have added complementary medicine to their services. Says Zunin: “It may be a replacement for existing medical services, and it may even lower costs from an actuarial standpoint, although studies are still in the early stages. It’s also a marketing thing, a customer-acquisition tool.”

In Hawaii, four medical practices—acupuncture, chiropractic treatment, massage therapy and naturopathy—previously were covered by workman’s compensation and no-fault programs but have been licensed and accepted by some of the state’s largest insurers, including Kaiser Permanente Hawaii, University Health Alliance and Hawaii Medical Service Association. “Our physicians were experiencing patients coming into the office and hearing about other appointments with chiropractors or an acupuncturist,” says Carol Taketa, director for product development and planning for Kaiser Permanente Hawaii, which, more than one year ago, began offering “riders,” or complementary medical benefits for additional monthly costs.

Kaiser’s new program allows corporate subscribers to add chiropractic, acupuncture and massage therapy to their health care packages. Or they can mix and match the treatments for anywhere between $2 to $16 per person per month. “We were getting information from our members that they were interested in alternative methods,” Taketa says. Approximately 750 companies under Kaiser’s healthcare program have added riders to their insurance packages.


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