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

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

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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Experiencing integrative medicine as an inpatient

by Pam Weiss-Farnan, PhD, MPH, BSN, RN, Dipl.Ac, LAc   Licensed Acupuncturist

As an acupuncturist with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing, I offer care to hospitalized patients at Abbott Northwestern Hospital.

This hospital is home to high-tech medicine, some of the best in the nation. But since 2003, when the Penny George Institute started offering holistic services at the bedside to complement conventional care, something uncommon happened. Services like acupuncture, massage therapy, aromatherapy, guided imagery and music therapy have become a part of the fabric of care here. Physicians, nurses and patients daily request such integrative services to enhance care and healing.

Every hospital is focused on keeping patients free of pain, nausea and stress. However, as a hospitalized patient at Abbott Northwestern, you can request therapeutic massage to ease your stress, reflexology to help ground you, or music therapy to find sounds to support your healing.

For example, if you are having joint replacement surgery, you learn skills prior to your surgery to control pain and nausea, and then have acupuncture available afterwards to enhance your well-being.

I frequently provide acupuncture to patients after their joint replacement surgery. Reducing the pain and nausea they feel after surgery also allows them to nap more frequently, which helps with healing. And they like the sense it gives them. It calms them down. They come out of surgery with a sense of fight or flight. The acupuncture gives them a sense of calmness, even in the presence of pain. It’s also kind of an adventure to many of them, who have never experienced acupuncture!

If you or anyone you know ends up at Abbott Northwestern, it is important to know that these services are available to you. We even have a pre-hospital program to help people before they arrive prepare their minds to have a more positive outcome and less pain. You can access that by calling 612-863-6122.

Once you are in the hospital, you can simply request services from a nurse or physician. You will be seen in your room by one of the 21 inpatient practitioners who will provide this therapy to you at no charge to you or your insurance company.

The intense experience of being ill is viewed as a sacred journey you are taking and is be supported by nurses, doctors and practitioners of the Penny George Institute.

To prepare yourself to experience the therapies, first breathe slowly.  Inhale to the count of 2 exhale to the count of 4.  You are on your healing journey.