By Story by Pfc. Jennifer Kennemer, 16th MPADMarch 16, 2010
FORT BLISS, Texas -The Army remains committed to providing the best Soldier care by staying on the forefront of new medical research and procedures. It has also expanded its spectrum of care to include integrative medicine or holistic healing.
More than six years ago, the first physical health and integrative medicine clinic in the Department of Defense opened at Fort Bliss. It offered chiropractic services and acupuncture, which is a procedure that is used to relieve pain by inserting filiform needles into different points of the body. Since then, programs that feature integrative medicine have spread across the Army and are utilized in combat environments to relieve the pain associated with minor sprains and help alleviate combat stress.
Integrative medicine differs from "traditional" medicine because it focuses on an improved quality of life rather than a distinct result; for example, the best patient outcome is not to be cured but to be empowered with tools to lessen pain or stress.
"Integrative medicine emphasizes the self," said Col. Richard Petri, Fort Bliss Physical Medicine and Integrative Health Services chief. "It emphasizes the patient, as a person, who has a condition that they need to be actively involved in for healing."
Petri knew from a young age that he wanted be a doctor, but his journey toward integrative medicine wasn't as clear a path. He began his medical career with a focus on orthopedic surgery but soon transitioned into physical medicine and rehabilitation. During that phase of his career, Petri said he really began to see the connection between the mind and the body, as well as the patient and their environment.
"I continued to treat patients and work with but with involvement from them and their family," said Petri. "I realized it was the path for me."
Under the guidance of Petri, the integrative medicine clinic at Fort Bliss transitioned into a center that houses several holistic disciplines in one location. Soldiers, family members, and retirees can now also benefit from a variety of services that include massage and meditation.
"It's a huge project that we started six years ago and it continuing to expand and it's necessary," said Petri. "I believe that it has been extremely effective when we have been able to implement it."
On an average workday Petri will treat more than 60 patients.
Maj. Jerry Scriven, a research analyst with the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command analysis center at White Sands Missile Range, N. M., is one of Petri's patients. Scriven has had "fairly bad" pain since 1999 as result of the deterioration of disks in his back. His initial treatment included physical therapy and chiropractics, but since acupuncture was also available at the same location, his doctor recommended that he try it.
Scriven said that the combination of all three treatments has resulted in a profound reduction in his pain level.
"When I am choosing my installation to go for my next assignment, if they don't have this facility available, do I really want to go there'" said Scriven. He also complimented the dedication and professionalism of the staff at the facility.
"From the minute that I was received here every personality in this clinic has been focused on how they can help me," said Scriven.
Petri's biggest goal is to open a three-pronged integrative medicine institution comparable to the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Washington, D.C., that explores research, education, and clinical practice, at Fort Bliss.
He would also like to see integrative medicine taught to combat medics and combat lifesavers for increased use in a deployed environment. The next step for the center is to incorporate a "group room" for family treatment and martial arts movements like tai chi that work on proper breathing and balance.
Although acupuncture is available on a walk-in basis, Soldiers must have a referral from their primary care doctor for all other treatments to ensure good health and proper diagnosis. Integrative medicine is an accent to but not a replacement for traditional medicine.