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Massage Today
April, 2004, Vol. 04, Issue 04

Therapist Finds the Right "Tools" to Unite CAM Providers

By Rebecca J. Razo

"What is the right tool for the job?" In conflict resolution, this quasi-rhetorical question seems perfectly natural, but former community and court mediator, Sonia Turanski, a successful massage therapist for the last 10 years, found that this question - her mantra, of sorts - could be asked in other settings, including the health care profession.

"It is my disposition to respect all sides of an issue," Turanski said in an e-mail interview with Massage Today. "And so, from the beginning of my massage training and career, I have seen every approach of medical care as a valid, important tool, with [that] question always [at the center]."

Indeed, Turanski asked this question again when she relocated to Maine's Blue Hill Peninsula, a quaint seaside community south of Bangor, and found a wide range of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practitioners in need of organization. Turanski discovered that a local hospital was recruiting for a community CAM liaison; she inquired about the position, and although it did not pan out for her, the seeds for her greater vision were planted. "My interest in creating a bridge between the differing camps of providers in our community came into focus," she disclosed.

A short time later, Turanski created the Acadia Health Association (AHA), a network of local providers spanning many different realms of CAM, including massage therapists, chiropractors, herbalists, psychologists, medical doctors, and many others. For Turanski, creating AHA was an important step in developing a unified system in which health care providers of all disciplines could network for the purpose of promoting the benefits of integrative health care to the communities in and around the Blue Hill Peninsula.

"The byline of AHA is 'integrated health care begins with us,' meaning that a system is not going to come down from above that we all plug into and magically become integrated, but that we, the providers, need to embrace the idea of working together with mutual support at a grass roots level," she said. However, once AHA was up and running, Turanski realized that the providers were only half of the equation. "I realized the need still existed for the population at large to have a resource for access to information and education about the variety of options available in health care, as well as a way to find out who in the community provided those services," she said.

That's when Turanski created Whole Health Access (WHA), "a holistic resource and referral service," according to its motto. WHA seeks to empower patients so that they can make informed decisions related to their health care. Turanski was preparing to present her idea for WHA to the local hospital where she originally inquired about the community CAM liaison position, when she received a visit from a childhood friend, Dr. Allen Tien, president of Medical Decision Logic, Inc. (MDLogix), a medical-based information technology software company in Towson, Md.

Since a number of MDLogix's projects are funded through grants, Dr. Tien suggested creating a Web-based database program for WHA, and offered to partner with WHA and apply for a grant to get the project off the ground. MDLogix applied for a grant through the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, and was approved in August 2003 for Phase I: a grant for $100,000 used for project research, development and testing, but not market research or marketing. According to Dr. Tien, principal investigator and overseer of the grant, Phase I, which usually lasts about six months, ensures that the project's goals are feasible; upon completion of Phase I, applications for Phase II may be submitted. Phase II usually lasts for about two years and funds are in the amount of $750,000.

Dr. Allen Tien, president of Medical Decision Logic, Inc. - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Dr. Allen Tien, president of Medical Decision Logic, Inc. Currently, WHA Phase I testing is underway. Local providers (some of whom belong to the AHA network) and a group of clients volunteered to test the software system over a three-week period. Providers enter information about their services, including contact information, specialties, etc., into the database, while clients conduct searches on the site based on health-related concerns by clicking on a series of checklists grouped under three categories: physical, mental and spiritual.

Clients also have the option of indicating preferences, including whether a provider is male or female, licensed or unlicensed, and insurance type. The system then matches a client's choices to appropriate providers in the network; however, what Turanski appreciates most is the database's interactive nature. "If someone doesn't find a descriptive term that applies to them, they can add it to the list. In this way, the lists of concerns and attributes are self-educating, with the system reflecting the actual words and categories of the people who use it," she noted.

During the testing of Phase I, the volunteer clients will evaluate the results generated by the search. At the conclusion of the study, all volunteers will fill out a survey describing their experiences with the service and provide suggestions for improvement. MDLogix plans to submit the application for Phase II on April 1. If funding is approved, Turanski hopes to test the program in other areas, including Baltimore; Portland, Maine; and Seattle.

For now, Turanski would like to see AHA continue its growth to include providers from all aspects of health care, and she notes that one of her goals for WHA is to de-emphasize the importance of categories that divide practices into conventional, traditional, alternative, and complementary. "My favorite saying [from massage school] is, 'when you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail.' I love this saying, because it so accurately reflects the self-importance that seems rampant in every school of thought. We need to respect the variety of skills out there, and to understand the limits imposed by our own beliefs...across the spectrum of health care, all providers offer important and relevant services. The question should not center around whether certain professions are better or more legitimate, but around 'what is the right tool for the job?'"

Sources

  1. E-mail interview with Sonia Turanski. March 8, 2004.
  2. MDLogix Web site, company overview. www.mdlogix.com.

 

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