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Support services insights: Are you providing the right complementary medicine services?

August 29, 2016

This is part of a weekly series on results from our 2015 national benchmarking survey on cancer program support services volumes, staffing, and operations.

Cancer patients use complementary medicine significantly more than the general patient population so offering these services may be an effective way to differentiate your program from your competitors. To help you decide which services you should offer, we surveyed more than 150 cancer programs. Below, we highlight key findings to get you started.

60% of cancer programs offer complementary medicine

Complementary medicine is highly valued by patients, particularly those with cancer. One study estimates that U.S. adults spend $33.9 billion on complementary medicine over the course of a year. As a result, many health care organizations offer complementary medicine programs in spite of limited reimbursement from payers. In fact, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, which saw a 25% increase in the number appointments for acupuncture and massage between 2014 and 2015, will be investing $2 million into expanding its complementary medicine program.

Given the high patient demand, we did not find it surprising that 60% of cancer programs offer at least one type of complementary medicine in our 2015 Cancer Support Services Volumes, Staffing, and Operations Survey. Teaching hospitals and academic medical centers are most likely to offer complementary medicine while non-teaching community hospitals are less likely to do so.

Almost half of the respondents offer more than one type of complementary medicine. In fact, cancer programs with complementary medicine offered an average of three types of services.


Exercise therapies and mind-body interventions most common offerings

The most common type of complementary medicine cancer programs offer is exercise therapy, which includes t’ai chi and yoga. Other common forms of complementary medicine include mind-body interventions and spiritual therapies. Pharmacological and biological treatments and manipulative body based methods are the least common.


Complementary medicine services not created equal

The types of complementary medicine cancer programs offer will vary based on a number of factors. Key considerations to keep in mind include safety, efficacy, and patient preferences. For example, there is no evidence base for 714-X, either for safety or efficacy. Not surprisingly, it is on the bottom of the list. For a comprehensive overview of the evidence base for different types of complementary medicine, the NIH’s National Cancer Institute provides detailed information on study results.

Patient preferences should also play an important role in determining which types of complementary medicine to offer. Younger patients (aged 18-54), patients with breast cancer, and patients that are in active treatment or just completed treatment tend to value complementary medicine more than older patients and newly diagnosed patients. Explore more about patient preferences with our Cancer Patient Preferences Explorer.

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