'Integrative' approach can make hospital care better

Updated 7/25/2011 9:58 AM

Most hospitals and medical centers advertise when their doctors and programs are top ranked. But, there are many ranking systems and it can be confusing. So, how do you find a good hospital? Well, you may want to look at those hospitals and medical centers that offer complementary and alternative medicine.

There are many factors that go into ranking hospitals including quality of the physicians and programs, inpatient complication rates and ongoing research. Recently U.S. News & World Report published its own list of the top hospitals and medical specialties in the country. Seventeen medical centers were considered excellent and stand out in the medical community. These medical centers are internationally renowned and include Johns Hopkins Medical Center, UCLA Medical Center, Mayo Clinic and Duke University Medical Center. All of the top 17 medical centers have excellent clinical and research programs in cardiology, oncology, orthopedics, etc. However, one interesting fact is that 13 of these medical centers also have a robust interest in integrating complementary and alternative medicine into the traditional medical structure. This approach is called "integrative" medicine.

This willingness to incorporate complementary and alternative medicine into a traditional medical structure seems to be common in those medical centers that have achieved national and international prominence. Many of these medical centers are part of the Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine. If you were to take the top 75 medical centers in the country, 47 of these would be the members of the consortium. Three are located in Chicago: Northwestern University, University of Chicago and the University of Illinois.

These top medical centers were leaders in their field long before integrating nontraditional medicine and having this area of medicine does not necessarily make them exceptional. However, it does show a certain level of open-mindedness and willingness to think outside of the box. It may also reflect a sincere appreciation for the beliefs of their patients (many Americans use some form of nontraditional medicine and believe that it works). In addition, during the past decade, medical research has shown that select nontraditional therapies can be effective (like acupuncture and massage) and that in combination with traditional medicine results in better outcomes.

How do you decide on a hospital or medical center? Although there are many excellent hospitals and medical centers that do not offer nontraditional medicine, those that do are regularly counted among the best in the country.

Patrick B. Massey, M.D., Ph.D is medical director for complementary and alternative medicine for the Alexian Brothers Hospital Network.