Hospitals affiliated with Yale, Duke, Johns Hopkins, and other top medical research centers are aggressively promoting alternative therapies with little or no scientific backing, according to a STAT report. They offer “energy healing” to help treat multiple sclerosis; acupuncture for infertility; and homeopathic bee venom for fibromyalgia. A public forum hosted by the University of Florida’s hospital even promises to explain how herbal therapy can reverse Alzheimer’s disease.
A STAT examination of 15 academic research centers across the United States underscores how deeply these and other alternative therapies have become embedded in prestigious hospitals and medical schools.
Some hospitals have built luxurious, spa-like “wellness centers” to attract 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. Duke markets a pediatric program, suggesting on its website that alternative medicine, including “detoxification programs” and “botanical medicines,” can help children with conditions ranging from autism to asthma to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
STAT’s investigation found a booming market for such therapies. During the past year, the teaching hospital connected to the University of Florida began providing cancer patients with 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.
Duke Health declined STAT’s repeated requests for interviews about its rapidly growing “integrative medicine” center, which charges patients $1,800 a year for a basic membership, with acupuncture and other treatments billed separately.
MedStar Georgetown quietly edited its website, citing changes to its clinical offerings, after a reporter asked why it listed the energy healing practice of reiki as a therapy for blood cancer. Cleveland Clinic struggled to find anyone on its staff who would defend the hospital’s “energy medicine” program, ultimately issuing a statement that it’s “responding to the needs of our patients and patient demand.”
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, according to the STAT report.
Dr. Steven Novella, a professor of neurology at the Yale School of Medicine and a long-time critic of alternative medicine, told a STAT reporter that, by promoting such therapies, physicians are forfeiting “any claim that we had to being a science-based profession.”
Novella said he’s alarmed when he sees top-tier hospitals backing treatments with scant evidence behind them. “Patients only want [alternative medicine] because they’re being told they should want it. They see a prestigious hospital is offering it, so they think it’s legitimate,” he said.
Dr. Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at New York University’s medical school, added: “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.” Too often, he said, the attitude is, “We’re damn well going to do it if the guys down the street are doing it.”
But there’s no question that patients want alternative medicine. It’s a $37 billion-a-year business, according to the STAT article.
The typical American adult spent approximately $800 out of pocket in 2012 on dietary supplements and on visits to alternative providers, such as naturopaths and acupuncturists, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention––and 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.
Source: STAT; March 10, 2017.