WASHINGTON – Dr. Hiroshi Nakazawa concedes that his old solution to many medical problems was “to cut people.”
But the general surgeon challenged himself about 13 years ago to learn acupressure, as a non-invasive way to help his family and patients. Today, with degrees in both medicine and acupuncture, the Catonsville doctor is an example of the growing integration of complementary and conventional medicine.
“I learned so much and I became very enchanted,” said Nakazawa, one of 2,100 “medical acupuncturists” in the nation. “I used to cut people to do something, now I can do something a much easier way.”
Practitioners of complementary medicine said demand for their services is growing in Maryland, and nationally, forcing more conventional doctors and hospitals to accept the field.
They concede that the acceptance by traditional doctors can be grudging. They are also quick to note that their practices — fields like acupuncture, craniosacral therapy and reiki — do not replace standard medical care, but complement and improve it.
“There are more and more conventional doctors and centers that are responding to the public demand,” said Jackie Wootton, president of the Alternative Medicine Foundation in Maryland. “Many, many more complementary services are being made available and this must be in response to public demand.”
Most Maryland hospitals have integrated the once-ignored medicine with their conventional services, many practitioners said.
“Almost every hospital has what they will call their complementary or wellness center,” said Barbara Ireland, co-director of the Baltimore Centre for Wellness in Ellicott City. “All over, we are noticing new signs popping up as people find out how these things benefit them.”
At the Anne Arundel Medical Center, for example, classes in yoga, tai chi and reiki — in which hands are placed a patient to improve his energy flow — have been steadily growing for the last few years. In one three-month span last year, more than 1,200 people participated in “mind, body, spirit” programs at center, said Kay Patterson, the hospital’s supervisor of wellness services.
“People are asking for it,” she said. “We really try to listen to the community and what we know is that people are interested in these programs.”
Massage therapy is offered in Anne Arundel’s joint replacement center and maternity ward, and more physicians are directing patients to the complementary services, Patterson said.
The increasing number of complementary medicine practitioners shows that increased demand. In 1995, there were 240 acupuncturists licensed and active in the state, according to the Maryland Board of Acupuncture. By 2002, there were 760, an increase of 217 percent.
Massage therapy, one of the more popular and easily accessible types of complementary medicine, is “a booming industry in Maryland,” said James Vallone, executive director of the state’s Board of Chiropractic Examiners.
Massage therapists must be certified by the board to practice in Maryland. Since the state began certification in 1999, nearly 2,200 massage therapists have been licensed.
“We kept looking for the leveling off point, (but) we have not seen it,” Vallone said. “I’m still surprised that we’re getting 20 people (certified) a month.”
He attributed that surge to a growing number of accredited massage therapy schools in Maryland, an increased willingness of insurance companies to pay for massage therapy and, of course, to public demand.
“I guarantee you they would not be doing it if there wasn’t a demand for it,” Vallone said.
But demand does not always mean acceptance — practitioners say the medical establishment more readily accepts those fields whose benefits can be proven through scientific methods.
“People are wanting proof, which I think is funny since there is not a lot of proof that the things in conventional medicine work,” Wootton said.
While complementary medicine practitioners think conventional medicine does a good job with certain problems, they believe an integration of the two fields is a better way to care for the whole patient.
“The whole idea is to make it become mainstream medicine,” said Sue Hartnoll, a spokeswoman for the Center for Integrated Medicine. “It’s trying to really bring medicine back to its original roots. Medicine is more than a science, it’s an art.”
Hartnoll said many physicians at her center, which is run through Kernan Hospital and the University of Maryland, are trained in both traditional and alternative medicine.
This blending lessens the dependence on technology and hard evidence that has disconnected doctors from patients, she said. Ireland said it also fosters a “whole body” approach to healing, a departure from conventional medicine.
“That’s the main difference between complementary and traditional medicine: Traditional treats the symptoms, complementary treats the root,” Ireland said.
Dr. Jason Meyerson thinks that doctors focus on fixing specific symptoms because they are reluctant to admit their ignorance.
“They’re not really geared toward saying, `I don’t know,'” said Meyerson, a chiropractor at the Baltimore Centre for Wellness. “How many times have you been to the doctor’s and he’s said, `I don’t know.’?”
But Meyerson said he hopes public demand for complementary medicine can help change that attitude.
“Ten years ago who was buying bottled water?” he said. “The same sort of thing is happening. More people are finding out about it and telling their friends.”