5 Questions About Integrating Complementary Providers During a Healthcare Crisis

When state governments began issuing Stay-at-Home orders in March, many complementary providers shuttered their offices and began providing a limited range of services, including telehealth. At the same time, frontline healthcare workers are feeling the strain of working long hours to combat the COVID-19 virus with less than adequate resources.

How can complementary providers better support for frontline healthcare workers—as well as the entire healthcare system—in our current healthcare crisis and in the future? Michele Maiers, D.C., MPH, Ph.D., NWHSU’s Executive Director of Research and Innovation, offers insights and advice on how individual practitioners can support the healthcare system, and how policymakers can facilitate integrating complementary providers into the healthcare workforce in times of need.

1. How could complementary healthcare workers support first responders during a healthcare crisis?

Many complementary healthcare workers, especially chiropractors, have skills within their scopes of practice that would be incredibly helpful to support frontline healthcare workers during a pandemic or natural disaster. For example, many providers are trained and qualified to assist with screening and testing, triaging those who present to acute or urgent care centers and virtually monitoring symptomatic individuals.

integrating complementary providersBeyond testing and triaging patients, our providers should be leveraged to treat noncritical healthcare concerns—cases of lower back pain, for example—to prevent these conditions from becoming more disabling, and to provide non-opioid treatment to pain patients. Our providers can also serve the frontline healthcare workers themselves, addressing acute pain, stress, fatigue, and more.

Our goal is to open the door to conversations with healthcare organizations about integrating complementary providers, and discuss how complementary and integrative care providers can be a more hands-on part of the healthcare systems response to on-the-ground healthcare emergencies—whether it’s COVID-19, a flood, an earthquake, or a terrorist attack.

2. How can alumni and students prepare to integrate into the greater healthcare system in times of crisis?

The best way to support the healthcare system during times of crisis is to develop relationships within the healthcare system ahead of time—with individual providers, hospital administrators, and complementary providers employed by these organizations—so that you’re a known, trusted resource. This way, when the crisis hits, you have a relationship and it makes it much easier to jump in. When healthcare organizations shift into crisis management, they aren’t likely to incorporate unknown providers into their crisis plan.

Also, make sure to stock up on your own personal protective equipment (PPE), for both your private practice and your volunteering efforts. This way, if there are shortages, your presence won’t be putting a strain on existing resources. Make sure stay up to date on both CPR and First Aid so that you can help first responders in emergency situations.

3. Are there any complementary providers supporting healthcare workers now?

Many of our alumni are providing telehealth services, which can be incredibly helpful to healthcare providers. I recently spoke with a chiropractic colleague who works at a federally qualified community health center, who has shifted all of his care availability to treat other providers at the clinic, who are experiencing new musculoskeletal complaints having transitioned all of their patient care to telehealth, and is proving himself to be an invaluable member of the team in doing so.

Many of our alumni have transitioned their practices to telehealth. In fact, sometimes these telehealth visits can be even more effective than office visits. For example, many complementary providers prescribe exercises for their patients. But how often do they get the opportunity to observe and supervise their patient performing the exercises correctly at home?

integrating complementary providers

Telehealth can have huge benefits for the way that complementary providers treat and make recommendations for ergonomics, self-care for musculoskeletal issues, and active care. In fact, simply seeing people in context, in their homes, can offer huge insights into the lives of patients that providers would not otherwise have.

4. How can complementary providers help patients right now and reduce the burden on essential and front line health workers working?

Complementary providers typically have close relationships with patients, and those relationships can be a lifeline. Whether it’s a telehealth visit, a phone call, or an in-office visit, this provider-patient relationship can have incredibly beneficial mental health benefits, especially in times like these.

In addition, the ongoing nature of this pandemic shines a light on how important it is to maintain optimal health and keep our immune systems strong. Now is the time to lean into care that enhances well-being and addresses chronic disease, especially given the high rates of disorders like diabetes, obesity, and heart disease are one of the reasons that the U.S. is being hit hard by COVID-19.

Everyone knows that they should keep a healthy weight and exercise, but many people don’t think about it in the context of minimizing their risk of infectious disease. Integrating complementary providers can be an important addition to the public health community in this respect.

5. How can students and alumni start advocating with policy makers to play a greater role in our current healthcare crisis?

Right now, we need to work to get reimbursed for telehealth. These services are incredibly important to both patients and the effectiveness of the healthcare system as a whole at this time. Professional organizations are approaching insurance carriers, advocating for these benefits, and it would be helpful if patients can contact their carrier and ask for coverage as well.

If covered, telehealth visits are reimbursed at a lower rate than office visits. Most anticipate that telehealth visits will not only play a significant role in healthcare during this crisis, but in the delivery of care moving forward.

Read the policy statement “Wholistic Cross-Sector Workforce: Leveraging Integrative Care Providers in Times of Crisis.”

Read the policy statement “Recognizing Complementary and Integrative Providers in the Healthcare Workforce.”