Lessons Learned: Building an Integrative Medicine Program at a Rural Critical Access Hospital

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Running an integrative medicine hospital program, especially in a rural area, can be a very lonely position, according to Yoon Hang (John) Kim, MD, MPH. It’s only once you’ve created a community around it and hired people with the same vision, he said, that the program can come to fruition and demonstrate its true value. 

Dr. Kim is the Chief Wellness Officer at Memorial Hospital, a rural critical access hospital in Carthage, Illinois, where he practices integrative medicine and acupuncture. After taking the job to help run the hospital’s integrative rural clinic, which is less than a year old, Dr. Kim spoke on the Integrative Practitioner Podcast about the many challenges and benefits of bringing integrative medicine to underserved communities.

We recently followed up with Dr. Kim to find out what he’s learned so far, how he thinks artificial intelligence could impact the future of rural healthcare, and what red flags practitioners should look out for before getting involved in an integrative medicine hospital program.

Integrative Practitioner: What are the top three lessons you’ve learned from your experience at Memorial Hospital?

John Kim: I learned that communication needs to continue, especially through difficult times, to ask for help sooner and faster, to be honest and direct, and to work on myself first. I spend several hours on personal practices that keep me grounded, mindful, and resilient.

Integrative Practitioner: What foundational factors do you need to build a successful integrative hospital program in a rural/underserved community?

John Kim: Don’t start the project without first having support from the CEO, who holds the same vision and mission statement.

Because I have worked for many organizations since 2004, I knew the optimal conditions had to include complete support from the chief executive officer (CEO). Ada Bair, the CEO of Memorial Hospital, has built a phenomenal culture of respect, safety, and listening. She is committed to actualizing ideal practices for every practitioner. To make this possible, every practitioner reports to her directly. Ada is an excellent listener, mindfully optimistic, and accurately forecasts the probability of success of many projects.

Together, Ada and I came up with Memorial’s mission statement, which is: to become a sustainable regional center of excellence for health and healing creating meaningful and impactful clinical, academic, educational, and research programs and to serve as a model site facilitating diffusion of health and healing innovations in rural underserved settings.

Support from the chief marking officer (CMO), chief nursing officer (CNO), and chief financial officer (CFO) are also crucial. Finally, you must ensure financial feasibility prior to starting the project.

Integrative Practitioner: Do you see potential for technology like AI, wearables, etc. to help improve rural healthcare?

Absolutely. Overcoming challenges of rural health would include technology such as telemedicine. In addition, activity monitors, sleep monitoring, nighttime erection time measurement, blood pressure monitors, scales, and continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) all have appropriate uses.

The ideal situation would be automatic integration with our medical record system and integration of membership so that consumers may use one membership rather than needing to sign up for multiple memberships.

Integrative Practitioner: What do you think integrative practitioners should keep in mind before getting involved in a new integrative hospital program?

John Kim: Potential red flags I would look for include:

  • A salary significantly lower than the national average/local average.
    • Indirect measurement of valuing of the service/provider
  • Lack of vision – unable to commit to the joint mission statement.
  • Recruitment difficulties including long delays, and if they’re unable to obtain written expectations, financial data, and/or salary range until the “the final phase.”
  • Lack of personnel, space, and equipment
  • Misalignment of promise and delivery
  • Unnecessarily long/punitive contracts

Having worked in health systems as a consultant and employee, the best position would be entrpre-employee, where one is part of the system but has the latitude to start a new institute, new service lines, and a design team with control of the project.

For example, in 2023, Memorial Hospital created the Memorial Institute of Health and Healing. This created multiple service lines, including Integrative Oncology, Integrative Pain Management, Integrative/Functional/Lifestyle consultations, Reversing Diabetes, and Medical Weight loss. The flexibility and support of the system also allowed us to create additional streams of revenue.

To learn more, listen to Dr. Kim’s podcast interview here.