Johns Hopkins Opens Alternative-Medicine Center

In another sign of the slow but steady integration in the United States of the mutually suspicious fields of Western and alternative medicine, a center recently opened called the Johns Hopkins Integrative Medicine and Digestive Center. "We conventional doctors need to acknowledge that some of our therapies don't always work," said Linda Lee, a gastroenterologist with 20 years of experience. Counting Lee, the center has 13 specialists, including acupuncturists, nutritionists and massage therapists. There is also a psychotherapist who employs hypnosis and touch therapy.

The center is testimony to a trend toward integrating complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) with the conventional kind. According to a 2006 American Hospital Association survey of 1,400 hospitals, 27 percent offered some sort of alternative treatment. In 1998, only 8 percent did.

 In 2007, Hopkins - a stronghold of mainstream medicine - joined the Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine, a group of 41 medical centers that has vowed to invest in alternative medical research and to develop integrative models of clinical care.

Hopkins and the consortium recognize that the key hindrance to a wider acceptance of alternative medicine is the lack of rigorous, randomized, placebo-controlled studies on everything from herbal treatments to Reiki energy therapy. "The kind of [conventional] medical school training we get, we're taught to reject many other types of training," Lee said. The federal government has also begun to get behind efforts to apply the techniques of empirical scientific research to the alternative-medicine field.

Richard Nahin, a senior adviser to the director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a branch of the National Institutes of Health, says the NIH will pour about $300 million into CAM research in 2008. That's up from some $50 million nine years ago. Additionally, private groups like the Osher and Samueli foundations have invested funds into CAM research.


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