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The Integrator Blog. News, Reports and Networking for the Business, Education, Policy and Practice of Integrative Medicine, CAM and Integrated Health Care. - Welcome! Alternative Medicine Integration Group Chooses Integrator Sponsorship
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Welcome! Alternative Medicine Integration Group Chooses Integrator Sponsorship PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Weeks   

Welcome! Alternative Medicine Integration Group Chooses Integrator Sponsorship

ImageSummary: Chicago-based Alternative Medicine Integration Group has quietly carved a niche for itself as an integrated care company which pushes the envelope in the kinds of care delivery programs which it is promoting. Elevated roles of such providers as chiropractors, massage therapists and nurse managers have attracted the interest of employers, plans and government agencies. The firm has just chosen to become the 4th of the planned 6 sponsors of the Integrator Blog News and Reports. Thanks!

The idea seemed preposterous to many: develop a patient care plan in which primary care is provided through a specially credentialed group of broad-scope chiropractors, under teh supervision of a holistic medical doctor and backed up by a network of conventional medical doctors. Yet somehow it attracted the interest of Blue Cross and Blue Shield's HMO Illinois and has grown to serve a number of large employers.

Or how about suggesting that massage therapists may play the central role in improving care to the health system's most expensive and demanding, chronically-ill clientele. This idea captured the interest of a significant government agency.

James Zechman, AMI Group co-founder
Since it appeared on the scene in 1997, Chicago-based Alternative Medicine Integration Group has been a significant and growing niche player in integrated care benefit development and management. The creativity may stem from an unusual leadership team of co-founder and president Richard Sarnat, MD - a holistic opthamologist with 30 years experience as a meditation and Tai Chi instructor/practitioner - James Zechman, co-founder, chair and CEO (formerly a senior executive with a Wall Street firm), and a board which includes long-time leaders such as Jim Winterstein, DC, president of National University of Health Sciences.

"Our emphasis has been to educate the payer community," states Zechman: "We are trying to bridge the gap between the provider and the payer." A key tool is "our research orientation," states Zechman. The firm's website notes its 7-year outcomes from its unusual integrative IPA contracted with BCBS's HMO-Illinois in Chicago:

  • Hospital admissions decreased by 60%
  • Hospital days decreased by 59%
  • Outpatient procedures decreased by 62% 
  • Pharmaceutical costs decreased by 56%

The complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies and providers favored by the AMI Group, and which support these outcomes include what they call "natural medicine" MDs and DOs, "broad-scope, primary care oriented" chiropractic, massage, homeopathy, herbal medicine, nutrition, Ayurvedic medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, mind-body work and cranial-sacral therapy. These therapies and providers are integrated into a context which, says Zechman, "ensures compliance with good conventional protocols" such as HEDIS. According to Zechman, the results at 7 years, which includes 70,000 member months, "are just getting better."

Richard Sarnat, MD, AMI Group co-founder
Zechman notes that the firm now has contracts in 14 states and is "at risk" on all of them. The focus is on large, self-funded employers. A key component of their success, according to Zechman, is that they arrange an "incentive component" on all their contracts. In effect, if AMI Group saves health care costs for a payer, AMI is able to participate in the savings benefits.

Zechman explains the Integrator sponsorship this way: "We missed your work when you were in Costa Rica and are pleased to sponsor the wonderful efforts on your part in getting this going again." AMI has played active roles in collaborative work among employer and managed care interests involved with integrated care, including sponsorship of the Integrative Medicine Industry Leadership Summit.

I am particularly pleased to have the AMI Group as a sponsor due to their a-typical business strategies. AMI is developing models which test fundamental integrated care assertions. How many times have some CAM or IM practitioners and businesses spoken of how they can show improved clinical and cost outcomes compared to outcomes of conventional care? One hears assertions of diminished costs of hospitalizations and pharmaceuticals, due to investing more appropriately up-front in a person's care. Yet it has always surprised and, in truth, disappointed that so few CAM-IM businesses of any sort have reached for this gold ring.

AMI has, to its credit, routinely gathered this type of comparative information and typically shared this data with others in the field, through forums, through my old hard-copy Integrator as well as in the June 2004 edition of the peer-reviewed and indexed Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics. (I must add that I am looking forward to sharing with you AMI outcomes from a separate project when AMI makes them public.)

I recall the skepticism with which the AMI outcomes in Chicago were received, by many, when shared after just two years of AMI experience. Will these apparent savings hold up over time? Some of the skepticism may be said by some to have been justified. At the seven year mark the findings on the decrease in hospital days went down (compared to the two year mark) from 69% to 59%, and the decrease in outpatient procedures from 85% to 62%. (The other two categories remained steady.) Yet, given the 70,000 member months presently analyzed, one would have to agree with Zechman that the data" are just getting better."

Finally, AMI's focus on creating relationships with employers gains the alignment of interest which is often not there with insurers, and managed care organizations. Not surprisingly, AMI promotes looking at the global outcomes of their interventions. (Search under "employer" for related Integrator stories.) "Attendance", "Attitude" and "Ability to Perform" are the way these are pitched to self-funded employers on the AMI site.

So, a sincere thanks to Sarnat, Zechman and the AMI Group, for choosing to spend some of their hard-earned dollars on this Integrator sponsorship. I look forward to having their input on the evolution of the Integrator work.
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