Emmie Sahlan

Controlling Costs: Alternative Medicine

The skyrocketing costs of conventional health care and concerns about the safety of pharmaceuticals have compelled a rising number of Americans to use alternative medicine to treat their illnesses. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), Americans spent a whopping $30.2 billion out of pocket on complementary health approaches, including $14.7 billion on visits to alternative practitioners like aromatherapy experts, Ayurveda specialists and massage therapists.

Before your employees join the alternative medicine trend, they should have a firm understanding of its pros and cons. Only then will they know whether these treatments are the best option for meeting their health care needs.

Pros of Homeopathic Approaches

Alternative medicine has several potential benefits. Some of these include:

  • Personalized treatment: Alternative treatments are often customized to meet each patient’s needs. Practitioners dedicate extra time to treat patients holistically — focusing on the whole unique person — rather than targeting isolated issues.
  • Cost savings: According to the European Pharmaceutical Review, some data has indicated that alternative medicine therapies may be less expensive than conventional medical treatments. Given the often onerous costs of conventional health care, it’s not surprising that employees might be looking for ways to save.
  • Stress therapy: Holistic treatments like breathing exercises, meditation, herbal supplements and acupuncture may reduce your employees’ stress. Reduced stress, in turn, may lower alcohol and substance abuse as well as blood pressure.

Cons of Homeopathic Approaches

Despite its possible advantages, alternative medicine remains “alternative” in part because unanswered questions surround it. Some of the potential drawbacks may include:

  • Insufficient research: There simply aren’t many affirmative studies on the effectiveness of holistic treatments, especially compared to conventional medicine. To gain more insight into the facts behind alternative medicine, encourage your employees to look up information using credible sources, ask their health care provider or take advantage of telemedicine options.
  • Lack of coverage: Many insurance companies do not cover alternative medications and treatments due to the abovementioned lack of scientific support. In addition, many supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA, making it too risky for insurance companies to add alternative treatment to their repertoire of benefits.
  • Unreliability: Regulations that do exist on holistic supplements may not be stringent, especially when it comes to indicating ingredients on labels. In this case, taking an herbal remedy alongside conventional medication may create adverse effects. Employees should have firm approval from their health care providers before they start taking any supplements.
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The significance of employer-employee communication

Ensuring that your employees get the care they need means educating them about alternative approaches. Both in writing and at in-person sessions, communicate to your employees that they should:

  • Not use alternative or natural medicine to replace proven conventional care or delay seeing a physician about a medical problem
  • Be sure there is enough evidence to indicate the effectiveness of a given alternative treatment for their medical condition
  • Speak to qualified alternative health providers to find out more
  • Be aware that “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean “safer” or “effective” — and know to investigate thoroughly before trying any treatments
  • Avoid mixing conventional medications with herbal supplements without clear approval from their doctors

As with every trend — especially where your employees’ health is concerned — it’s critical to remain cautious around alternative medical treatments. That said, if certain employees are seeing positive results from alternative care, there’s likely no reason to discourage it. It’s your job to make sure your employees have access to the care they need, whatever form it may take.

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