By Myles Spar, MD
Low-income patients who want to improve their health still find themselves facing significant barriers such as limited access to quality care and the lack of good health information and education.
We’ve found that the two most persistent health problems low-income people experience are chronic pain and stress. These issues arise because of the strenuous physical labor their jobs require or the difficult economic realities their families face at home living paycheck to paycheck. Making matters worse, the free clinics to which they go for help rarely have the resources to offer effective treatment for complex conditions such as chronic pain.
But the challenge can be met and the underserved can have the good care they need. To better serve this patient population, we created the Venice Family Clinic’s Simms/Mann Health and Wellness Center – the nation’s first health, wellness, and integrative healthcare program offered at a free clinic.
Integrative healthcare can play a critical role in helping prevent illness and improving the health and lives of those with chronic conditions. This is because the integrative approach addresses the full range of physical, emotional, mental, social, spiritual and environmental influences that affect a person’s health. After a comprehensive assessment, integrative healthcare uses the most appropriate interventions from an array of scientific disciplines to help people get and stay well.
In a recent BraveNet study, researchers found a reduction in pain severity of more than 20 percent and a drop in pain interference of nearly 30 percent in patients after 24 weeks of integrative care such as acupuncture, mindful meditation, and yoga.
Working with local acupuncture and chiropractic colleges, our center has established a multi-disciplinary program that addresses the conditions facing our patient population. Through volunteers and interns, we offer a wide array of free services including acupuncture, chiropractic care, osteopathy, and mental health counseling.
There is a six-month wait list for many surgeries at hospitals. Waiting that long can be agonizing, as prescription pain killers are often unaffordable and over-the-counter pain relievers carry serious side effects from long-term use. Acupuncture and chiropractic intervention are relatively inexpensive to administer and can provide relief in a matter of weeks.
To address chronic stress, we have created a set of skill-based stress management classes facilitated by a trained social worker. We are teaching people with chronic medical conditions, such as depression, diabetes, asthma, and hypertension to better manage their own health.
Every day we see low-income patients who want to be empowered with accurate information to address their health issues. They want to learn how to implement an exercise routine, without the added expense of a gym membership, or they want to know how to better manage stress when a spouse loses a job.
We have a lot of work to do to help break down the barriers to quality healthcare for low-income patients but the Venice model can serve as a blueprint. As health professionals, we must continue to look to new approaches, like integrative healthcare, to ensure every patient is at the center of care, empowered to not only get well, but stay well.
Myles Spar, MD, MPH, is director of integrative medicine at Venice Family Clinic’s Simms/Mann Health and Wellness Center and director of the Clinic’s HIV Services. The Bravewell Collaborative is honoring Dr. Spar with the Bravewell Leadership Award on November 7, 2013, for his work in integrative healthcare.