LiveWell®

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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Celebrating International Integrative Medicine Day

By Debra Bell, MD

Today, Jan. 23, is International Integrative Medicine Day. The mission of the day is to “inspire worldwide dialog, education, collaboration, research initiatives, and programming about medicine that is patient-centered, holistic, economically and environmentally sustainable, and open to a global palette of care options.”

Integrative medicine ― sometimes called holistic or complementary medicine ― has been evolving for many years and is now utilized by more than 50 percent of the general population. It is becoming more accepted by main stream medicine every day.

A good example of this is the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing, the largest integrative health center embedded in a health system in the country. The Penny George Institute is part of Allina Health.

At the Penny George Institute, we are engaged in the national and international forum of those committed to integrative medicine research, education and clinical services.

I have been involved in the field for 30 years, long before it was ever called integrative medicine. I am thrilled that there is now a designated day to recognize this valuable aspect of health and healing.

To honor this day, I invite you to take a moment today to pay attention to your health ― to the way you live, how you feel, and the choices you make. Reflect on what is contributing to your wellness and any changes you might make for better health.

Debra Bell, MD, sees patients at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing. She offers an integrative medicine, or holistic, approach, to women’s health, fibromyalgia, fatigue, allergies, chronic disease and nutrition.