John Weeks  Septebmer 2012 Integrator Round-up covering news updates on the topic of business in integrative health care

ASH, dominant provider of licensed CAM benefits, opens South Carolina Technology Center

American Specialty Health, the $250-million San Diego company that took over dominance of the provision of managed complementary and alternative medicine services nationally in the late 1990s, announced September 4, 2012 that it is “teaming up with Innovista at the University of South Carolina (USC) to create a health technology innovation center that will bring new jobs to Columbia (South Carolina).” CEO and chairman George DeVries commented: “As technology plays an increasingly larger role in our service capabilities, and in the day-to-day lives of people, ASH must deliver innovative and robust capabilities that will allow us to keep up with demand and also grow our services in new ways.” The firm, with over 900 employees, is expected to have $w230-million in revenues in 2012. ASH provides benefits to over 31-million members through its expansive corporate and insurance programs that now are led by other organizations.

Comment: Chiropractors, and especially those in California, were the foundation of this company, despite the DCs antagonism toward many of DeVries business strategies, including pricing. But after De Vries’ ASH team has continued to make a series of smart, expansive investments into health promotion and wellness. The South Carolina move reflects this: a university affiliation in a growing business sector in a cheap-labor state. If the game is about dying with the most things, you have to credit DeVries’ vision and business acumen. 


Cheesecake Factory Medicine: Atul Gawande’s New Yorker piece goes inside corporatized, Big Brother medicine

Imagine an era in which, at a remote site, a handful of healthcare professionals gaze at walls banked with monitors. These don’t merely peer into a single facility but. They watch a group and many sites within each of a group of hospitals and outpatient sites. Those monitoring don’t only peer in. They can directly pipe in, with clinical and management suggestions. And they do. As influential medical reporter and policy leader Atul Gawande reports, such an offsite monitoring and intervention strategy is presently utilized in particular by the growing, for-profit chains. These may be owned by investment banks or traded on Wall Street. In Can Hospital Chains Improve the Medical Industry, Gawande walks into the pros and cons of this form of healthcare management. He first describes how such practices are used by large corporations to manage multiple restaurant sites. He focuses on the Cheesecake Factory restaurant chain. then enters a hospital chain centered in the Boston area. Gawande reports a conversation with one doctor: “This is not at all the normal way of doing things in medicine. (‘You’re scaring me,’ [the doctor] said, when I told him.) But it’s exactly what the new health-care chains are now hoping to do on a mass scale. They want to create Cheesecake Factories for health care.”

Comment: This is a scary read – and a good reason why so many Integrator readers are repulsed by my support of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In many ways, the ACA is pushing this direction as a correction to the utterly out of control business practices in the $2.8-trillion so-called “not-for-profit” medical industry. Did it have to come to this? No. Leaders throughout medicine have known they are missing the collective, population-based, preventive point of good care. And they looked the other way. The uncomfortable truth is, we are likely to save lives, reduce waste, limit errors, and more often do the right thing when the offsite Borg that Gawande describes has the opportunity to monitor and influence the warm bodies in the room with the patient. 


American Botanical Council reports that herbal dietary supplement retail sales jumped 4.5% in 2011

For the 8th consecutive year, herbal supplement sales have increased according to Austin, Texas-based American Botanical Council (ABC). The annual market report of a team led by ABC president Mark Blumenthal, released September 4, 2012, estimated total 2011 retail sales at nearly $5.3 billion. The mainstream market, such as drugstores, increased roughly 3% over 2010. Sales in natural food stores rose by 5.5%. Concluded Blumenthal: “These sales data indicate continued strong consumer demand for herbs and other natural plant-derived ingredients as an essential part of their self-care.” He added: “What is even more remarkable is that herbal supplement sales grew while the economy is still considered in recession, a sign of how highly American consumers value these safe, low-cost materials.” A third channel, “direct sales,” reflects sales via professionals, multilevel marketing, mail order catalogs, Internet sites, radio and television direct sales outlets, network marketing firms that sell directly to the consumer. This channel represented roughly half of all sales and was up 4.4%. The ABC report is based on statistics from the Nutrition Business Journal (NBJ) and market research firms SymphonyIRI, and SPINSscan Natural.