ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE: SUNY’s IPA Embroiled in Debate
A plan by State University of New York at Stony Brook to create the first university-affiliated IPA devoted to alternative medicine has unleashed a debate that mirrors national disagreement over the worth of alternative remedies, Newsday reports. The head of the school's Center for Complementary/Alternative Medicine, Dr. Sam Benjamin, describes the effort as offering "health care that's truly integrated" while his opponents, including Francis Johnson, a professor of chemistry and pharmacological sciences, call it "a sham and a scam." Benjamin's plan would incorporate alternative therapies into hospital-based emergency medicine, pediatrics, oncology, neurology and family practice. It "follows on the heels" of a Harvard study released last November that revealed that 40% of Americans used alternative therapy within the past year. Dr. Marcia Angell, executive editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, cautioned against providing treatment before conducting adequate research, noting "There is money in alternative medicine, and universities are not above reaching for that money. HMOs are also looking for young healthy members and alternative medicine attracts essentially healthy people."
Jumping On Board
Stony Brook's chairman of neurology, Dr. Jim Davis, noted that while the proposal has "polarized" the university faculty, it also has "given us visibility on the national scene." Davis' department is set to launch two alternative medicine studies, one to test the effects of ginkgo biloba on dementia and one to test the herb feverfew on migraines. Collaborative efforts with Parkinson's disease experts are also pending. Negotiations with insurers are expected in the near future as managed care organizations such as MDNY Health Care queue up for a contract to cover alternative therapies recommended by primary care physicians. Benjamin hopes the IPA will be "able to 'negotiate hard' with managed care companies to offer these services at affordable prices." Benjamin said the IPA will include between 100 and 150 board-certified practitioners willing to submit patient data, and insisted that only "top-notch providers" will participate and that their data will provide material for "legitimate research" (Ochs, 5/11).