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OHSU Consult Service Offers Personalized Road Map To Navigating Alternative Medicine

   Portland, Ore.


Perhaps medication helps, but doesn't quite eradicate, recurring sleepless nights. Or the thought of expensive and complicated treatments for infertility might be unappealing. Maybe there is a desire to augment traditional cancer treatments with holistic methods. These situations, among others, might motivate a patient to ask: "What are my other options for treatment?"

After decades of unsuccessfully managing health problems attributed by physicians to fibromyalgia, Masha Sanders, 57, found herself asking that question. "I was so exhausted I would cry at work. I was seeing a doctor, taking medication, but nothing was clicking," Sanders said. "It was scary. I was at a point of deterioration."

Enter Oregon Health & Science University's innovative Alternative Medicine Consultation Service. This service, which operates within the Center for Women's Health Integrative Medicine Program, offers both men and woman a crash course in complementary and alternative treatment options. Unfamiliar with alternative medicine, but frustrated with traditional medical care, Sanders enrolled in the consultative service and followed the personalized list of recommendations given by a team of four health professionals from varied medicinal disciplines - professionals who believed that despite Sanders' fibromyalgia, depression was the underlying root of her health problems. "Five weeks later, my life has turned around. Now I get out of bed in the morning and I'm ready to do things," she said.

"It is a truly unique and astonishing service," said David Harrison, M.D., Ph.D., facilitator of the consultative team. Harrison, a physician trained in psychiatry with a doctorate in nutrition, is also trained as a medical acupuncturist, certified massage therapist, and Yoga instructor.  He stresses that the service is collaborative at heart.  Each member of the team, which consists of at least one OHSU physician, an acupuncturist, naturopath and chiropractor, interviews the patient in the first session, building upon questions asked by other team members. This interview is followed by the physical examination of the patient, with each health care professional examining the patient in turn, with ongoing dialogue about the findings in the presence of the patient. "Patients find this process very powerful. They have a sense that the practitioners are talking amongst each other, and that feels reassuring," Harrison said.

Each patient takes away from the consultation a prioritized list of recommendations across the disciplines - a six to seven page personalized document created and approved by the team. The medical professionals also recommend providers of these treatments to the patient, effectively equipping the patient with the tools necessary to make an informed decision about the at-times overwhelming field of alternative medical treatments. 

Harrison, a fourth-year resident in the Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine's psychiatry department, says that all types of patients request the service. Examples of recent consults have included problems with infertility, cancer and depression. He characterizes the consultation as not only empowering for the patient who receives the dedicated attention of multiple health practitioners, but also as a therapeutic step for both patients and team members toward finding effective treatments for chronic conditions.

 "Our goal is to utilize and incorporate effective and safe complementary and alternative treatment modalities to improve treatment outcomes and reduce suffering," Harrison said.  "All of the practitioners on the team have this same goal - we are united in helping to improving the quality of life of our patients.

" Sanders believes that the vast improvement in her own life proves that alternative medicine can be effective. But she is quick to qualify that her success is not solely the result of adhering to the team's recommendations, citing the team and the format of the consultation as key to her transformation. "For the first time in my life, I felt really validated by medical professionals. Instead of having to prove to someone that I wasn't feeling well, they believed me. And that's remarkable," Sanders said.

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The Alternative Medicine Consult Service is one of several services provided by the Integrative Medicine Program within the OHSU Center for Women's Health. Anne Nedrow, M.D., assistant professor of general internal medicine and geriatrics, directs the Integrative Medicine Program.  Nedrow, an internist with extensive experience and training in integrative medicine, sees patients for individual consultation and supervises Harrison and the other practitioners on staff, including an acupuncturist, naturopath, massage therapist and spiritual counselor. 

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