Integrative medicine pioneer David Fogel to collaborate on IHPC Capitol Hill Outreach

Moving IHPC policy goals forward takes ongoing and consistent effort with all hands on deck and boots on the ground. That is why IHPC has announced its 2020 Capitol Hill Outreach efforts will include a new collaborative partnership with David Fogel, MD, founder of the groundbreaking integrative clinic Chi Health Care. He will be teaming up with Tracy Bowen, IHPC’s Executive Director to bring his unique background in integrative healthcare and help IHPC to build and support the bi-partisan Congressional Integrative Health and Wellness Caucus. He will also help advance targeted federal legislative priorities, such as expanded coverage for Integrative Health and Wellness in CMS Medicaid, Medicare, Veterans, Pain Management; the Social Determinants Act; and research funding for integrative health and wellness.

As a pioneer in the concept of integrative medicine, Dr. Fogel is uniquely qualified for this new advocacy role. A native of Washington, DC, his background in alternative and integrative practice stems from a boyhood experience in martial arts, which set the stage for a lifetime of interest in eastern philosophy and an openness to the idea that western conventional culture is not the only way to see things. Fogel did go to medical school but quietly experimented with alternative approaches like acupuncture as far back as the 1970s. He started his first integrative center in the late 90s, and he says this gave him the first taste of the power of a team-based interdisciplinary approach.

Unfortunately, this early effort struggled financially because of the poor reimbursement standard, so Fogel went back to private practice in internal medicine with a specialty in mind/body psychotherapy. But his interest in the integrative model remained and he continued to refer his patients to alternative practitioners as his own form of collaborative care.

Fast forward to 2011. A local philanthropist in Gaithersburg, Md., approached Fogel about opening a new integrative center. His first thought was to decline because of his experience with the discouraging financial prospects, but then reconsidered. Fogel asked the group to fund a study, in which he and a team of healthcare professionals would look at existing integrative centers and discover what made them successful.

“Based on that study, we put together a model using different parts of what we’d seen,” he said. “An important part of that was the new value-based model that was just coming on the scene. Fee-for-service is a horrible incentive. It makes much more sense to incentivize keeping people well.”

The research also taught them that most centers were surviving with grant money or by bypassing insurance reimbursement altogether, which made integrative care largely accessible only to the elite and affluent.

Because the new clinic, name Chi Health Care, had a generous grant, Fogel, serving as the CEO, made it open to all insurance including Medicare and Medicaid and developed a sliding scale for people who were under ensured. “The exciting part of the practice was that it exposed us to a whole new segment of people who knew nothing about integrative medicine,” he recalled.

The clinic also explored the culture of an integrative primary care practice looking not only at what it did for patients but staff as well. “Our model was not just about teaching practitioners to meditate or eat better, but looked at how they interacted with each other,” Fogel explained.

So many clinics had different practitioners under one roof but they were all doing their own thing, he added. “Our model paid and required practitioners to collaborate. So we actually got better health outcomes at a lower cost, with fewer hospitalizations, lower pharma use and fewer ER visits when compared to conventional practices.” Sadly, after six years in practice, value based payment reforms which were central to the business model, hadn’t matured to a level to make the clinic financially sustainable and David made the difficult decision to close the clinic in 2019.

When asked why he thinks the concept of integrative medicine is still such a tough model, Fogel cited the need for ongoing and extensive education. “In some ways, even though there is a lot of information and evidence that people are using an alternative-based lifestyle approach to health, I don’t think, in general, people understand much about the integrative approach. Small segments of the population and physicians do get it, a growing number of people are trying acupuncture, but they don’t understand how powerful and cost-effective a collaborative approach is.”

The rest, he added, comes down to the counterintuitive resistance from pharmaceutical companies  and just plain old ignorance. “Many medical societies including the one here in Maryland are still opposed to naturopathic doctors getting prescribing rights. People also don’t know that NDs get the same curriculum as allopathic doctors. So lots of education still needs to happen,” he said.

With the closing of his clinic some of Fogel’s time and resources remained available through his nonprofit Chi Health Care, which led him to connect with IHPC. Fogel sees IHPC strategic goals of building the Congressional Caucus and supporting the broader applications of integrative care for the opioid crisis as critical. “That is one message to bring to folks on the hill,” he noted, “that integrative medicine is not just for pain but also an approach for addiction treatment.”

While Fogel is a newcomer to policy work, he believes that he and IHPC’s executive director Tracy Bowen make a good team. “Tracy has the background in policy work and I bring my passion and clinical experience to it.” The bottom line, he added, is that “I feel like this is something I am supposed to be doing. While it was painful to close the clinic, I can use the tools and messages I have gained to get out there and help make integrative care a key part of health care.”