LiveWell®

Wellness and prevention information from the experts at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

The evolving field of holistic health – from alternative medicine to integrative health

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By Zena Kocher, LAc, MaOM, licensed acupuncturist, Penny George™ Institute for Health and Healing

At the end of my senior year of high school, our yearbook held predictions about each graduate’s future. It was predicted that I would quit my position as editor and chief of the New York Times to become a Zen Buddhist monk.

Even though this was one of the more absurd prophecies, this prediction actually hinted at my career path. Indeed, I did leave behind my dream of becoming a journalist to become a Chinese Medicine and integrative health provider at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis.

I think a Zen Buddhist monk is the closest comparison to an acupuncturist that the yearbook committee could find. In high school, none of us had heard of acupuncture, and the field of integrative health – sometimes called holistic health – did not even exist. We didn’t yet have the language to describe my future profession.

Holistic health – focused on the body, mind and spirit – has evolved over the last thirty years from alternative medicine to complementary medicine to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to integrative medicine, and most recently to integrative health.

Though 50 million people use integrative health services in one form or another – be it acupuncture or meditation or integrative nutrition counseling – it is still relatively uncommon for conventional health care organizations to adopt integrative health services and programs.

The main tenets of integrative health have become established with holistic physicians and nursing programs around the nation. CAM providers have teamed up in clinics and hospitals to offer integrative health services.

I work for Allina Health’s Penny George Institute for Health and Healing, the largest integrative health program within a health system in the nation. We have been tasked with expanding our program across the hospitals of Allina Health. This means more hospitalized patients will have access to services like guided imagery, aromatherapy and massage therapy to help support their recovery, manage pain, deal with anxiety and sleep better.

Many health care systems look to the Penny George Institute for a better understanding of how to develop successful integrative health programs and improve health care overall. Fortunately, the Penny George Institute has a research team to collect and analyze data to help us better understand how and when integrative health therapies help patients the most.

Still, the language and science about what we do is still in the making. A deep understanding of how and why some integrative therapies work has not yet been revealed.

As clinicians, we are at the center of this evolving field. We have a crucial and unique perspective. What we see, experience, and practice helps define integrative health. It’s an exciting place to be.

In future blog entries, I plan to put my journalism skills to work by interviewing my colleagues about our work. I hope this collection of upcoming interviews will provide insights into integrative health care.

Zena Kocher, LAc, MaOM, is a licensed acupuncturist with Allina Health’s Penny George Institute for Health and Healing. She provides integrative health services to hospitalized patients at Abbott Northwestern Hospital.

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