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A Look At Integrative Medicine In Florida


The hot new trend in health care is “integrative medicine,” bringing ideas from alternative medicine into conventional practice. There’s no clear definition of the growing movement and little regulation.

When Todd Anderson of Sarasota was 45, tests showed he was headed for a heart attack. He had bypass surgery, but three of the four grafts failed.
“I was told my only chance was to get on the transplant list,” said Anderson.

But Anderson was told he wouldn't qualify until after a heart attack. In desperation, he tried chelation – an IV treatment for metal poisoning. He'd heard it could clean plaque out of arteries.

“After six months I went back to the cardiologist, did a treadmill test and got a clean bill of health,” he said. “I explained to him that I’d been doing chelation therapy and he said, ‘Chelation’s a crock.’ So I basically just switched cardiologists to one with an open mind.”

That was 13 years ago.

Anderson goes to Florida Integrative Medicine Center, which has a roomful of herbs, hyperbaric oxygen, and a clinic with a dozen recliners and IV poles. Primary care Dr. John Monhollon also handles the needle treatments, chelation, blood irradiation and others. He has a broad definition of integrative medicine.

“What therapies are going to help this person the most? We don’t really care where those therapies come from, if they come from ancient China or India,” said Monollon. “It just doesn’t matter and the patient doesn’t care, the patient just wants to get better.”

Hospitals are jumping on the integrative medicine train, but they stop short of homeopathy or chelation. Tampa General Hospital offers a short list like meditation, yoga, and music.

At Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Dr. Amber Orman leads the push on integrative medicine. She treats breast cancer patients with radiation, but also coaches them in nutrition, exercise, and relaxation techniques. She's open to anything that helps patients and doesn't put the m at risk.

“Even the placebo effect is an effect. There is value in making somebody feel better, even if we don’t understand it,” said Orman.

What remains unclear is how state medical boards will regulate integrative medicine practices that most mainstream doctors regard as hooey. For example, Florida's Supreme Court struck down an attempt to outlaw chelation years ago.

Dr. David Gorski is co-founder of the non-profit Society for Science-Based Medicine. He said “Integrative medicine” is just a nicer phrase for unproven therapies.

“What may be good or effective about integrative medicine is already in regular medicine,” said Gorski, “get enough sleep, lose weight, and keep your nutrition up, exercise. There’s nothing unique about that."

But for some treatments, the science isn't clear. The National Institutes of Health spent more than $31 million testing chelation on post-heart attack patients, but got such confusing results that it's launching a second trial.

Meanwhile, a Tampa group has formed a new fellowship and testing program for integrative medicine. And patients seem willing to pay cash for their care, since health insurance doesn't cover most integrative medicine treatments. Dr. Monhollon said he tried taking insurance, but gave up.

“What I do requires long office visits. So I would go under if I took the money the insurance company was willing to pay, and the patient wouldn’t get well if I tried to do my stuff in that tiny little time slot,” said Monollon.

Stan Welch, a regular patient at Dr. Monhollan’s center, said he pays about $1,200 for a series of chelation treatments every couple of years. He believes in it, along with eating only whole foods and fasting now and then.

“I thought it would be a good model to live my life by. So that is what I’ve done,” said Welch.

Integrative medicine, he says, is preventive maintenance.

The Florida Board of Medicine has been asked to revoke the license of an integrative medicine specialist. See that story and more at Health News Florida’s website.