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Massage Today
September, 2011, Vol. 11, Issue 09

Embracing the Future of Integrated Care

By Whitney Lowe, LMT

There is no shortage of complaints about the health care system, whether in this country or abroad. Unfortunately, we don't get as much press attention for those things that actually are innovative and working well.

There is a movement afoot where practitioners are looking at ways to offer the most optimum means of treatment in a patient-centered healthcare approach. This method of integrated care is an exciting departure from what we have seen previously as the dominant model in our health care system.

While there are many situations in clinics where health professionals in different fields work together, as a general rule, our professions work and exist in separate silos. Each of our professions has a unique culture, literature, attitude, and perception. We tend to view the other professions through the lens of bias created by our own profession.

Yet, for any patient or client to derive the best care, in many situations the skills of different professionals are needed. For this to work we must get out of our silos and learn more about each other as healthcare professionals. I have had the great fortune to work with two different organizations that are doing this in very inspiring and unique ways and there is much that we can learn from them in providing the most effective patient- or client-centered care.

Two Models

Several years ago, I began working with the Academic Consortium for Complementary and Alternative Health Care (ACCAHC). This is one of the most passionate and interesting groups I have ever worked with. I first met many of these individuals prior to ACCAHC's formation at the National Education Dialogue (NED) held at Georgetown University in 2005. The purpose of NED was to bring together physicians and deans of academic medical centers with leaders in the alternative health care professions, to talk about educating future practitioners so we could learn more about what we do in each other's professions. It was simply amazing to sit at the table with physicians and mainstream medical academics who were eagerly interested in learning about what we do in massage therapy and alternative healthcare.

ACCAHC grew out of the NED and is an organization of representatives from alternative health care professions. The primary focus of ACCAHC is to encourage a patient-centered healthcare model that includes integration of all healthcare modalities to find the most effective and appropriate care for each individual. In order for this to occur effectively, the practitioners, educators, and researchers from each of these professions must first learn a great deal about what others in different fields do. While I thought I had a pretty good understanding of the other alternative healthcare professions, it became very clear early on that there was so much I didn't know about how care was delivered in these other fields.

One of the major projects currently underway for ACCAHC is a focus on interprofessional education (learning about what other professions do). When you think about referring a client to someone else for care, it is really essential that you have a thorough grasp of the treatment approaches used for that individual. We must understand how massage interfaces with those other treatments. Similarly, when a client is referred to us from some other practitioner, we need to understand the approaches that have been used previously and why they may or may not have been effective. Interprofessional education is at the core of this understanding and the initiatives of ACCAHC are highly valuable in bringing massage therapy forward.

Unfortunately, not all of the organizations in the massage therapy profession have recognized the crucial importance of ACCAHC's work. We have had good representation from educators, clinicians, and researchers, but in order to move forward as a viable profession within this organization we must also have a strong and proactive participation from our accreditation and certification bodies.

The second group that illustrates a great model of integrated care is one that I've very recently become involved with. It is called TRIARQ and is headquartered in New York. TRIARQ was started by a number of physicians and physical therapists who recognized that they were both working with the same patients, but in many instances not benefiting from a thorough and comprehensive understanding of the treatment approaches they were each using. As the TRIARQ website states:

"Healthcare for patients with musculoskeletal injuries is fragmented among physicians, physical therapists, occupational therapists and patients. Historically, there has been limited communication or coordination of care amongst these groups. We are seeing fundamental changes in the philosophy of patient care including stress on continuity, quality, scientific-based treatment and performance of healthcare professionals. The success of treatment, measured by patient satisfaction, needs to improve."

Because musculoskeletal injuries make up a huge segment of healthcare expenditures, it is essential that we encourage greater collaboration between those professionals who treat musculoskeletal injuries. TRIARQ has recently opened up their membership to massage therapists and actively encourage the participation of massage professionals in this interprofessional dialogue. After speaking at a recent symposium with them in New York, I was once again thoroughly impressed by the degree of respect and mutual collaboration amongst all the individuals representing their own unique perspectives. It is this type of integrated healthcare that will provide clients and patients the most effective opportunities to enhance their health and well-being.

I would encourage all massage therapists to seek out not only these organizations, but any opportunities to enhance your own understanding and awareness of what people in other healthcare fields do so you can best understand how to integrate those practices with your own. We are at a place in our health care system where we must get out of our individual silos and find ways to deliver optimal integrated care. The more we learn about each other the better we will be in our own approaches.

Click here for more information about Whitney Lowe, LMT.


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