HMOs Take Spritual Approach

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USA Today

Health plans, buffeted in recent years for their no-frills approach

to medical care, are pushing ever further into alternative medicine,

hoping to find low-cost ways to boost patient satisfaction.

Need help understanding the meaning of life? No problem. A Denver-based
HMO offers spiritual counseling, six visits at $ 10 a pop.

Fearing surgery? Blue Shield of California unveils a new prescription
today: free audiocassettes for patients aimed at harnessing their
imaginations to promote healing.

Has health care gone California?

Such efforts fly in the face of the back-to-basics approach many
managed-care plans have adopted in recent years. But although
alternative care is popular, particularly on the West Coast, some
wonder whether spiritual counseling and guided imagery will sell
in the heartland.

“I think this is probably appropriate for California. But I just
can’t see it having a lot of application in Chicago,” says Blaine
Bos, a principal at benefits firm William Mercer.

More to the point, what about the boardroom?

“I’ve never heard employers suggesting that this is something
they want,” Bos says.

Yet those opinions could shift if the plans show results in speedier
healing, cost savings or even just happier patients.

“It has the potential to catch on,” says Camille Haltom, a consultant
with Hewitt Associates. “With growing dissatisfaction with managed
care, these are low-cost cost ideas that can be well received
by participants.”

Blue Shield expects to reach 5,000 to 7,000 patients each year
with its surgical counseling tapes, spending about $ 20 each for
the cassette and a phone consultation with a nurse. It plans to
track the members who use the tapes to see how they fare after
surgery compared with those who don’t.

The tapes (not to be used, the plan warns, while driving!) have
listeners imagine entering a magic screen where they see themselves
wheeled into an operating room.

In the OR, competent medical staff care for them and say such
things as “this patient isn’t bleeding very much at all,” says
the tape’s creator, therapist Belleruth Naparstek of Cleveland.

Naparstek says a study at the University of California-Davis,
found that surgery patients who used the tapes did bleed less
— and left the hospital 28 hours sooner than patients who had

In Colorado, supporters say spiritual counseling, too, can help
patients get better faster.

“We would like it to be preventive,” says Neil Waldron, head
of the Sloans Lake health plan. “We also think it can reduce

Still, cynics abound.

“The health plans are just trying to create a mirage to make
patients forget they’ve been deserted,” says HMO critic Jamie
Court of Consumers for Quality Care.

Consumer Watchdog
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