ARLINGTON, Va., June 24, 2011 -- Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, Army surgeon general and U.S. Army Medical Command commander, hosted an Integrative Medicine Meeting where senior medical and non-medical Department of Defense leaders from across the services convened to review alternative medical practices to enhance the quality of care servicemembers and other military medicine beneficiaries receive in future.

The meeting served as an orientation for the leaders to observe the positive impact integrative medicine can have on the quality of care the Military Health System, or MHS, provides. During the meeting, attendees observed a series of presentations from some of the nation’s leading university medical schools, hospitals and government agencies on integrative medicine implementation strategies.

“This is an organized attempt to really look at problems from the ground up and then build an approach that brings in all of these alternative methods of treatment and integrate them around the patient,” said Schoomaker. “We have some very foresighted and visionary practitioners as well as leaders throughout the MHS and Federal Health System, and all of us have been looking at various ways (to implement integrative medicine).”

The concept for this meeting derived from a recommendation provided by the Army Pain Management Task Force, or PMTF, chartered by Schoomaker in August 2009. The task force included a variety of medical specialties and disciplines from the Army, as well as representatives from the Navy, Air Force, TRICARE Management Activity and Veterans Health Administration, or VHA.

The purpose of the task force was to assess U.S. Army Medical Command's, or MEDCOM’s, comprehensive pain management strategy.

After completing its assessment in May 2010, the task force reported a total of 109 recommendations. Schoomaker directed MEDCOM to operationalize the task force recommendations into an Army Comprehensive Pain Management Campaign Plan, or CPMCP. The CPMCP implementation has six phases.

The current phase involves standardization of Regional Medical Command, or RMC, integrative pain centers and expansion of non-medication pain management modalities across Warrior Transition Command, known as WTC, and RMC integrative medicine centers.

Col. Kevin T. Galloway, chief of staff and member of the PMTF, said that much of the push for integrative medicine services has come from Soldiers and other military medicine beneficiaries who have had experiences with alternative care methods and vouch these methods do work in situations such as pain management.

“While we have people within Army Medicine who have embraced integrative modalities such as acupuncture and yoga, the majority of the noise in our system is brought about by our patients,” Galloway said. “(They) come to us saying, ‘This works for me. How can I get it?'”

Patients want options other than medication only treatments, Galloway added.

“What we need to have is a common understanding of what integrative medicine is and what it’s not,” Galloway said.

“Many of the Military Health System’s challenges with pain management are very similar to those faced by other medical systems, but the MHS also faces some unique issues because of its distinctive mission, structure and patient population,” he added.

MEDCOM officials acknowledge there will be challenges moving forward to implement integrative medicine practices, but are confident such practices will evolve military medicine as we know it today.

“One challenge is to change the culture of what pain represents to the individual Soldier or warrior,” Schoomaker said. “This is not an event that can necessarily be swept under the carpet.”

Schoomaker encourages servicemembers to seriously think about better ways to manage their health and to not overlook pain and injuries when they first happen. By doing this, he says servicemembers may help lessen the chances of experiencing more serious pain or injury in the future.

Schoomaker and other MEDCOM leaders like Galloway do not view alternative medicine as a replacement for medications, but as an opportunity to better customize military health care for each patient.