The Cleveland Clinic opened its Chinese herb therapy ward as part of its Center for Integrative Medicine in January of this year. In the clinic certified herbalists work under the supervision of Western medicine-trained physicians to see patients. A herbal therapist must undergo three to four years of Master’s degree level education in Chinese medicine and pass certification exams in Oriental medicine, herbology and biomedicine. The clinic rules state that patients must be referred by their physician, who oversees their treatment for at least a year.
According to administrators at the Cleveland Clinic, this is the first of its kind to be affiliated with a Western hospital. “We’re incorporating ancient knowledge into patient care,” says in-house herbalist Galina Roofener.
There have been many stories about the dangers of dietary supplements and herbal treatments sold to the general public, including by this author. But if the process is managed by medical professionals, then much of the risk should be minimized.
Essentially unregulated by the FDA, many supplements contain unspecified ingredients and varied to no amounts of the advertised herb. Drugs and herbal treatments taken together have been known to cause drug reactions that can lead to illness and other medical issues. The program at Cleveland clinic is providing herbal therapies in a well-supervised, thoughtful approach. The herbal therapists are certified and medical doctors supervise the patients. There is also oversight of the supplement manufacturing process.
“There are more ways of healing than just our conventional medicine,” Dr. Melissa Young, of the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Integrative Medicine. “It doesn’t have to be an either-or, and we’re seeing, I think, the best results often when we can combine both philosophies.” (Today Show, 4/24/14) Conditions like menopause, premenstrual syndrome, insomnia, chronic pain, digestive disorders, headaches and chronic fatigue are among the conditions that respond well to herbal medicines.
There has been very little clinical research of Chinese medicine in the US and there are ongoing concerns about the purity of ingredients in herbal medicines found on the open market. The Cleveland Clinic has carefully sought out sources for the herbs used in its clinic. The Clinic is working with a Kaiser Pharmaceutical subsidiary out of Taiwan as well as a Chinese herb–specific compounding pharmacy in Massachusetts and California that specializes in custom blends, according to a report in Time.com.
The Cleveland Clinic joins the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern University and the NorthShore University HealthSystem, affiliated with the University of Chicago, in providing herbal medicine for their patients. This new approach is garnering a lot of attention right now; it’s a groundbreaking approach to incorporating a range of modalities in patient care. Hopefully, these clinics are safe, innovative and effective models for future patient care, as opposed to a laboratory for testing new methods of treatment.