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Explore (NY). 2005 Jan;1(1):13-20.

Patient visits to a hospital-based alternative medicine clinic from 1997 through 2002: experience from an integrated healthcare system.

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Berman Center for Outcomes and Clinical Research, Minneapolis Medical Research Foundation, Minnesota 55404, USA.



Efforts to integrate complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) into conventional healthcare systems raise questions about expected levels of CAM use and its cost in an integrated system. This paper documents actual patient usage of a hospital-based alternative medicine clinic that has been operating on a conventional healthcare campus since 1993.


Hennepin Faculty Associates (HFA) is a multispecialty physician organization serving the Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC), a public teaching hospital in downtown Minneapolis. In 1993, HFA opened an alternative medicine clinic, primarily providing acupuncture. The clinic has since expanded services to offer chiropractic, massage/bodywork, and herbs. Administrative claims data showing visit dates, treatment received, payment source, charges, and patient complaints are available from 1997 through 2002.


Of all HFA patients who received conventional care on the HCMC campus every year (1997-2002), 6.5% also received care at the Alternative Medicine Clinic (AMC). Nearly 80% of AMC patients received third-party reimbursement for AMC services. Averaged over 6 years, self-pay patients had 3.2 visits per year and incurred $173 in charges per year; patients with a mixture of third-party payment sources had 8.0 visits per year and incurred $634 in charges per year. Number of visits per patient per year remained relatively constant over the 6 years, except for patients aged 65 or older, who showed an increase in number of visits, particularly for acupuncture.


This report contributes a new perspective on use of CAM in the general population. Results from this perspective differ markedly from those provided by published survey data, showing a lower prevalence of use and lower charges incurred. Concern that insurance coverage for CAM would increase healthcare costs dramatically are not substantiated by these data.

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