The University of Maryland Medical Center this week will begin to expand its pain clinic to help "difficult and under-served" patients -- those who do not respond to traditional treatments and tend to be ignored.
It will use therapies often labeled "from the fringe," such as acupuncture, electrical stimulation, stress management, herbs, minerals and animal products, and bring them into mainstream medical practice.
Then, in about five years, if clinical research supports the dream of Dr. Jane Matjasko, chief of anesthesiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine -- the school would develop an institute of integrated medicine where medical students would learn alternative as well as traditional medicine.
What the school proposes to do is unique, said Dr. Brian Berman, who did his residency in family medicine at the University of Maryland Medical Center and recently left a 7-year-old integrated medical practice in London to launch and evaluate the UM project.
"This is the first time ever that any university has attempted to integrate complementary medicine into orthodox medical care," Berman said. "Our prime objective is to bridge the gap between conventional methods and those less-understood methods in patient care. We're not saying that complementary medicine has all the answers; we are saying that bringing some of these techniques in to the mainstream will improve patient care."
The so-called "difficult" patients in the pain clinic continue to have pain after the effects of a nerve-numbing treatment wear off, Matjasko said. The pain can recur for psychological and emotional reasons, she explained, and the expanded pain clinic will have specialists on board who can sort out these causes.
"In the past, when patients continued to have pain, we ignored them. We did not understand what was going on," she said. "But, with experience, we have found that acupuncture can make a difference."
Initially, these patients will be treated by Berman. But as other UM physicians are trained in these non-traditional therapies, "difficult" patients will be treated in the same way in neurology, orthopedics, oncology and neurosurgery.
The project has been financed by an up-front $1 million gift from Sir Maurice Laing, whom Matjasko characterizes as "a unique individual who has an interest in the general well-being of humans on this planet from a whole lot of vantage points and this happens to be one of them."
Laing, a philanthropist and the retired head of one of the largest ++ construction firms in the United Kingdom, was a patient of Berman's, suffering from a "serious disease," that Berman declined to identify. Acupuncture restored Laing's health, Berman said.
According to Matjasko, Laing had always envisioned a place where some of these complementary forms of medical therapy could be combined with orthodox medical therapy.
"What Sir Maurice wanted and Dr. Berman and myself wanted was a location where we could do clinical research into the effectiveness of these forms of therapy and prove how they were effective," Matjasko said. "I had had an interest in combining non-traditional and traditional therapies for some time and Sir Maurice was the catalyst."