In Jim Collins' book How the Mighty Fall — and Why Some Companies Never Give In, he elucidates how and why successful companies fail, and offers lessons from their demise. It occurred to me that we in the integrative medicine world don't often speak about what does and does not work when a hospital introduces complementary and alternative medicine. These thoughts led me to one of the early pioneers — the Arizona Center for Health and Medicine, which once was heralded as a model program but was shut down soon after it began operating.

A Promising Start

When the Arizona Center opened its doors in Phoenix in the 1990s to much fanfare, it was ahead of its time. It was one of the first hospital-based and sponsored CAM clinics, and the buzz I heard was only positive. I even had an opportunity to tour the facility and hear the story of how it came to be.

The leaders at Mercy Integrated Health, the health system under which the Arizona Center operated, were committed to incorporating spirituality into the caring process, and adding CAM to its service offerings was not a far leap, says Doris Milton, Ph.D., R.N., who served as the founding director of research and education for the center. The organization provided the funding and a large amount of space for the CAM program. But, in hindsight, many of the strategies and tactics they undertook were not planned, thought through or budgeted.

I spoke to Milton about some of the many lessons they had learned, and what they would do differently today.

Recognize that education is key. Whether or not you decide to offer CAM therapies, make sure you educate your staff and providers. You cannot get buy-in unless they know what they are supporting. Ensuring that they are included in the decision regarding which therapies will be offered and which fit with the organizational culture is essential to your success.

Gain the support of senior administrators. Senior administrators offer credibility and have the power to make things happen. This is crucial not only to program start-up and allocation of resources, but also to ongoing support during hard times.

Avoid creating one "star" player. While we have found that having a physician champion for a CAM program helps, ensure that you have a team of champions — physicians, nurses, CAM providers, managers — who can all support the program even if there are staff changes.

Choose therapies based on need, not on provider preferences. There is a tendency to choose the therapies to be offered based on provider preferences or favorites. It is important to understand the needs of the community you are serving and the medical conditions most prevalent to determine the therapies you will provide; then, make sure the community will actually use your services.

Engage in local marketing and communication. While national recognition and accolades are nice to have, it is more important to have local support among community leaders, providers and hospitals, all of whom can help build your referral base. Local communication and marketing are crucial to success.

Credential your CAM providers. Have a credentialing process in place before you open your doors. As you bring in new providers, your systems are ready to furnish their credentials.

Hire for values and culture. Hire staff and practitioners based on the culture you are trying to promote rather than hiring people merely for a certain skill set. Skills can be taught, but attitude cannot.

In the last decade, many of these lessons have been learned and implemented by the next generation of CAM centers. But there is always more to learn, and the experiences of the early adopters have been invaluable.

Sita Ananth, M.H.A., is a writer and content expert on complementary and alternative medicine based in Napa, Calif. She is also a regular contributor to H&HN Daily.