Healthcare News & Insights

Do alternative therapies boost revenues more than health?

More hospitals are offering alternative therapies — is it for the therapeutic effect on patients or the hospitals’ own bottom lines?  A survey by the American Hospital Association found that 42% of hospitals now offer at least one alternative therapy. That’s up from only 27% five years ago.

The most commonly offered alternative, or integrative, therapies at outpatient centers are massage, acupuncture and guided imagery — a stress reducing technique that uses techniques like visualization. For in-patient options, the most popular are pet, art and music therapy.

While most experts would agree such services don’t do any harm, the research is a mixed bag on how much — if any — therapeutic benefit they actually offer.

But the Washington Post points out that one area integrative medicine definitely aids is hospital finances. According to a study by the National Center for Health Statistics, in 2007 Americans spent nearly $34 billion on integrative therapies. And since the bulk of those services aren’t covered by insurers, that’s about 11% of patients’ out-of-pocket medical spending. Little wonder why hospitals are then offering more of the services — it’s a lucrative growth market.

Integrative therapies help boost hospitals’ bottom lines in other ways. For instance, if massage and acupuncture can relieve stress, boost immunity and shorten a Medicare patient’s stay, the hospital gets to keep more of the pre-determined payment for that patient’s treatment.

There’s a less tangible benefit to hospitals, as well. Making integrative therapies available for patients who want them can soften the clinical face of a health care organization. The typical patient is going to feel far more comfortable getting a massage than another IV.

Should hospitals be offering more or less of these alternative therapies? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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