Alternative medicine assists with surgery

Sean Madigan

Carefully gauging the rhythm and tone of his voice, Dr. Donald Houge gently guides his patients through special moments and recollections of their lives. He pays attention to their breathing patterns, waiting for their hands to get heavy and the blood to flow to their brains.
For the past 20 years, Houge has been helping his patients prepare for surgery using clinical hypnosis, a natural process putting mind over body and dismissing physical sensation and pain. Sometimes Houge’s patients even use hypnosis in place of anesthetics.
“In a sense, it’s setting up deja vu,” Houge explained. “So on the day of the surgery it’s like they’ve already had it.” Houge uses a three-session process to visually lead his patients through the entire surgical process from walking into the hospital to checking out and starting rehabilitation. His patients are trained to know what to expect each step of the way. But Houge admits things don’t always go as planned.
“It’s kind of fun when something comes up as a surprise. Rather than get startled, it’s time to get creative,” Houge said. He sits with his entranced patients throughout each procedure.
Houge’s hypnosis practices have helped patients undergo a variety of orthopedic, arthroscopic and abdominal surgeries as well as hip replacement surgeries and pregnancies, all without any type of anesthetic.
“I’m trying to facilitate the strength that people have inside them,” Houge said. “They’re using their mind and their body, and they want to do it (surgery) in a very natural way.”
Houge’s patients, along with more than 110 million other Americans, are using some form of alternative or complementary medicine. But the now $27-billion-a-year industry is still under-researched and unexplored.
Later this month, in a joint venture between the University and Fairview Health Systems, the Mind, Body and Spirit Clinic will open its doors to study and provide complementary and alternative medicine.
As one of the eight leading centers for the study of alternative medicine nationwide, the University will finance half of the clinic’s capital through the Academic Health Center and its Center for Spirituality and Healing. AHC officials said they hope the clinic will eventually be self-supporting.
“The Center for Spirituality and Healing has a three-part mission: research, education and patient care,” said Sharon Norling, a physician on the clinic’s staff and assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health. “The clinic will be the patient care portion of that mission.”
The Fairview-University Riverside hospital will house the clinic and its 10- to 15-member staff. With the exception of the clinic manager, the entire staff — including three physicians and a psychiatrist — will be part time.
The clinic will provide a multitude of alternative and complementary therapies including meditation, acupuncture, clinical hypnosis, traditional Chinese medicine, massage therapy and holistic and herbal medicine, said Elaine Anderson, a registered nurse and Fairview program manager.
“It’s our intention to integrate biomedicine and complementary therapy,” Anderson said.
In addition to its therapies for the mind and body, the clinic will also offer spiritual health services. Norling explained that spiritual care is based on a broad belief system, then tailored more specifically to the individual. Spiritual care administered to a female Somalian immigrant will be substantially different than care offered to a Lutheran man from rural Minnesota, Norling said.
Alternative and complementary therapies are intended to be administered along with traditional Western medicine. Norling defines complementary medicine as “those things that were never taught in medical school” and are more humanistic and less technical approaches to healing and health.
The World Health Organization reports that more than 90 percent of the care administered around the world is considered alternative medicine.
“So we practicing Western medicine are really the alternative,” Norling said.
But Roger Feldman, a professor in the Division of Health Services Research and Policy, defines alternative medicine differently.
“Alternative medicine could be considered what’s not covered,” Feldman said. “There’s good coverage for chiropractic, then it rapidly tails off.” About 40 percent of insurance companies will cover some types of alternative medicine.
The New England Journal of Medicine reported in 1993 that Americans spent more than $13.7 billion on alternative medicine therapies and paid $10.5 billion out of their own pockets.
“There’s an incredible dilemma: no one can provide care for free,” said Greg Plotnikoff, medical director for the Center for Spirituality and Healing.
Because most patients are limited to what their insurance companies will cover, access to alternative medicine is curtailed because of economic realities. Medicare and Medicaid do not cover most alternative and complementary therapies.
The typical demographic of an alternative medicine patient is an upper- to highly-educated, upper- to middle-class white woman over 40, Norling said. She added that more than 71 percent of people seeking alternative or complementary therapy are women.
“It’s not to be a boutique,” Plotnikoff said. “But the cynic in me says the interests in the market do not lie in those unable to pay.” He explained that affectability and increased access will come with research and documentation.
“We have to be able to show insurance companies that (alternative medicine) is a cost-effective and effective way of treatment,” Norling said.
The Hennepin County Medical Center has had an alternative medicine clinic since 1993. Centered around research, the clinic works to see that its services are accessible to the community at large.
“We’re probably low- to mid-range and accept some forms of medical assistance,” said director Pat Culliton of the clinic’s fees.

Sean Madigan welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3226.