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East/West Medicine
Worlds Collide at Harvard Vanguard

Steve Stenstrom is a 47-year-old furniture conservator in South Boston who for 15 years has experienced chronic aching in his legs, a condition he attributed to fatigue and the hazards of his occupation. Seeking relief from his pain, Stenstrom visited numerous doctors without success. They agreed that the woodworker had no circulatory problems that could be causing his problems, and there were no other symptoms that pointed to a specific course of treatment. Finally on a visit to his healthcare provider, Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, Stenstrom talked to his primary physician about alternative therapies. He left with not only a referral to an acupuncturist, but to one working side-by-side with the doctors at Harvard Vanguard.

"The alternative medicine program here really opened its doors in October 1997, but the beginning of the program, conceptually, started long before that. For really quite a few years, I was hearing from patients that came to get care with our doctors and other clinicians that they were using alternative medicine for various aspects of their care. It became apparent to us that maybe it would be a good thing for us to see if we couldn't make that available to our own patients within our walls, under our roof, and that's how the program was born," says Judith Frampton, an administrator for Harvard Vanguard.

"One of the things that we were really compelled to figure out how to do was ensure that patients who got that care were getting it from quality providers, in a place where they could feel comfortable, where they could trust the providers that they were seeing, in which the alternative medicine providers that they were seeing had a way of talking to their doctors. And that's the beauty of the program that we designed, and it works that way."

Richard Weisblatt is the medical director in the Cambridge offices of Harvard Vanguard. "The medical leadership of Harvard Vanguard made it very clear that we needed to do this in a certain way, we had to follow certain procedures. And procedures of quality assurance and credentialling and chart review and peer review and performance evaluations of the providers are the same kinds of things we would have them develop in any medical program. We've applied those to developing an alternative medicine program."

"I'm certainly very excited about it; everyone who is involved in our program is, and so are our patients. When you see the way it's worked here, it's really been to the benefit of patients. People have been talking together about their care, and having conversations about their getting better, that weren't taking place before," Weisblatt said.

Steve Stenstrom would not disagree. "I'm feeling very comfortable with these [acupuncture] treatments, but I would certainly feel much more comfortable if it were covered by insurance." For the most part, HMOs and other insurance plans still don't cover alternative therapies. Harvard Vanguard is no exception, but its alternative practitioners are able to lessen the bite on a patient's out-of-pocket expenses by offering a 20 percent discount.

Judith Frampton thinks it's inevitable that some sort of insurance coverage for alternative therapies will be available. "It's not because it's faddish and insurance companies are going to be forced to cover fads. It's because we will prove that patients will get better and benefit from this treatment, and consequently insurance companies will see it in their interests to have some form of coverage. Alternative medicine is not going away. It's real, and it's needed, and it's part of what our patients benefit from."

Program Description
Dr. Stephen Sinatra
Reiki:The Ancient Art
Harvard Vanguard
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Body & Soul is currently airing Monday-Friday at 7:00pm and 8:30pm on PBS YOU.

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