Practitioners Describe the Promise of Team-Based Integrative Approaches to Pain Management

Collaboration and a team approach is an important part of the solution for addressing non-opioid, integrative therapies for pain management, health and wellness, according to two of the presenters at the recent 2nd meeting of the Congressional Integrative Health and Wellness Caucus in Washington, DC on March 6th. The presentations were part of a larger program devoted to addressing barriers to access and other models of care with nonpharmacological treatment options titled “Pain Management in the U.S.: An Underlying Contributor to the Opioid Crisis.”

Both presenters, Susan Luria, director of University Hospital’s Connor Integrative Health Network in Cleveland, Ohio, and Casey Seenauth, ND, staff physician at the Neil Riordan Center for Regenerative Medicine in Tempe, Arizona, underscored the substantial evidence that current systems are not working to address prevalent chronic health conditions that are caused or exacerbated by lifestyle factors and lead to opioid use. Luria described how a collaborative integrative approach is working in the University Hospital system. “Our health system has a program, the Connor Integrative Health Network, with the belief that optimal health could best be achieved by a combination of traditional medicines and complementary therapies and support of patients to achieve lifestyle choices and behavior that supports their health.”


She detailed the program, which provides hour-long integrative consults with patients to identify the underlying causes of their health issues and pain and then prescribe the appropriate therapies, such as chiropractic, acupuncture, massage, yoga and even music and art therapy. “We are taking these therapies and embedding them where they should be with the physician,” she said. “So the acupuncturist is in a primary care office, music and art therapy are in the inpatient setting and we are bringing these tools to the patient in their homes. It helps patients take care of themselves and provides physicians with tools to take care of their patients.

In his presentation, Seenauth noted the ample evidence and recommendations supporting integrative therapies from both medical experts and governmental agencies specifically for patients who have lower back pain—95 percent of whom are using opioids to address their pain. The recommendations overwhelmingly endorse non-pharmacological treatments, such as exercise, multidisciplinary rehabilitation, acupuncture, mindfulness, stress reduction, tai chi, yoga and spinal manipulation.

He described how the Riordan Center with Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and other integrative health organizations have put together a program using the naturopathic therapeutic order to develop curricula that can be used in academic programs in Arizona for physicians, NDs, dentists, and even veterinarians. “Physicians who don’t typically have training in these therapies will get more training emphasizing this team-based approach so they know from the beginning how to collaborate to help patients. ND’s are uniquely positioned to be a part of these integrative care teams because they understand when to apply these various modalities,” he said.

Both presenters also discussed barriers to access. Even though there is evidence that these modalities are effective, they are largely unavailable, Seenauth said, because there seems to be an issue of insurance companies not covering these treatments so patients have pay out of pocket and others aren’t able to afford the treatments.

“The good news,” said Luria, “is that some things are covered in our program. The integrative Consult and chiropractic are covered, but the therapies they might recommend are not—acupuncture, massage and yoga are all cash pay. So the real barrier we have to break is the physicians inside our system who really don’t want to have to make that choice about changing care based on a patient’s ability to pay. Our physicians want to know that they are providing the same fantastic care to all their patients.”