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Nick Jacobs: Championing Patient-Centered, Integrative Health and Medicine for More than Four Decades
By Ron Cichowicz

Maybe, given his unconventional pathway to healthcare management, Nick Jacobs was always destined to seek and implement innovative--some might say sweeping --changes in ways to deliver care.

As Jacobs explains it, he entered the healthcare field some 20 years after most of his senior leadership peers, and brought along a briefcase full of new ideas and enough good old fashioned gumption to implement them.

"My professional life experiences were much more varied and non-traditional," Jacobs said with just a hint of understatement. These experiences included directing high school bands and orchestras for ten years, teaching trumpet lessons, managing a successful arts organization in a rural area and serving as chief executive officer of a convention and visitors bureau. Concurrent to these responsibilities, Jacobs found time to pursue a master's degree in public management/health systems management, which opened a door to him assuming the CEO position of Windber Medical Center.

"Buoyed by my past experience, it was my vision to create a hospital that embraced all modalities used in integrative medicine with the ambiance of a fine hotel and the amenities of a health spa," Jacobs said. "We carefully scrutinized and then credentialed practitioners specializing in massage therapy, integrative nutritional counseling, acupuncture, osteopathic manipulation, pet, art, and music therapy, reiki and spirituality, to name a few.

"These practices are collectively called Integrative Health and Medicine, or IHM. Once we intermixed them with traditional Western medicine, this became our new norm."

As defined by the American Board of Integrative Medicine and the Academic Consortium for Integrative Health & Medicine, Integrative Health and Medicine recognizes the importance of the practitioner-patient relationship while seeking to find root cause issues. IHM's focus is the whole person, is evidenced-based and provides a wide range of appropriate therapies, healthcare professionals and disciplines to achieve optimal healing and health.

While many traditionalists have decried the introduction of IHM into more mainstream U.S. health care practices, Jacobs countered that more and more evidence demonstrates such opposition is unwarranted.

"It was our goal to create a healing environment where people would not be immersed in fear and trepidation, where their loved ones could comfortably stay with them, and where unnecessary paging, and middle of the night prodding and wake up calls were avoided as much as humanly possible," Jacobs said.

In other words, a true patient-centered experience.

"As a non-clinician and non-scientist, it didn't matter to me how people got better, just that they did. So, I was open to introducing new ideas," he added. "More than 19,000 papers have been written supporting the efficacy of acupuncture alone, with thousands more extolling the healing power of music, massage and other modalities. So, we brought these potentially life-changing treatments to Windber."

But not everyone was as enthused as Jacobs about exploring such a new frontier.

"IHM practices are not at odds with traditional medical practices; they actually enhance them," said Jacobs. "Yet often they are ignored, discouraged, even ridiculed in many hospitals and doctors' offices."

Jacobs added that such attitudes and reactions often spring from pure lack of information or simply misguided prejudice. Yet often another root cause is economics.

"Pharmaceutical companies, for example, see no profit in promoting most IHM treatments," he said. "And some medical practices will see their earnings decrease if they treat patients with acupuncture, spinal manipulation, massage therapy, even mindfulness instead of with costlier treatments or surgery."

So strong was Jacobs' belief in the value of IHM for patient health that he took his crusade international. A founding member of the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine (and at the time of its creation, the only non-physician member of its board of directors), Jacobs was also on the executive committee of the Integrative Health Policy Consortium. An outspoken and enthusiastic cheerleader for IHM, Jacobs has written countless articles on the benefits of IHM to patients--both in terms of health and healthcare affordability--and has spoken to numerous healthcare and consumer organizations on the topic while working with IM leaders such as Drs. Dean Ornish, Mimi Guarneri, Len Wisneski, and Deepak Chopra.

Despite the many barriers that remain, including the lack of reimbursements for IHM treatments, Jacobs believes resistance to IHM is lessening.

"In Europe and Asia, IHM practices are thriving and their value is acknowledged and embraced," he said. "Beachheads are being established in the U.S., but its larger acceptance and integration into standard treatment will only occur when patients take greater responsibility for their health and request, even insist on, IHM treatments. Then more physicians will begin to provide them, and more insurance companies will pay for them."

Nick Jacobs is a principal with SunStone Management Resources. He can be contacted at (412) 992-6197.

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