Monday, November 03, 2008

Beth Israel Hospital takes woo to a new level

The New York Times recently posted an article about a huge new woo promotion launched at Beth Israel Medical Center. Mark Hoofnagle over at the Denialism Blog thought it was a good article. I thought it was just “so-so”---not really promotional but by no means appropriately critical. (Why the NYT doesn’t rip the quacks a good one the way they do the pharmaceutical industry is beyond me). At any rate it was eye opening. I had no idea how much woo was going on there. The Times piece did accomplish two things---it prompted Orac to update his Academic Woo Aggregator (I love it when Orac updates his AWA) and it coined a new slogan for academic woo: “Say ‘Om’, not ‘Ah’.”

It isn’t as though BI wasn’t already promoting woo as Orac pointed out well:

Of course, where there's one form of woo, there's other woo. After all, it's highly doubtful that Donna Karan would try to sell her yoga program to an institution not likely to be receptive to her woo, and, boy, oh, boy is Beth Israel open to woo. Just get a load of its Continuum Center for Health and Healing. Just peruse its webpage, and it's a veritable cornucopia of woo and unscientific medical modalities. It's all there. There's leech therapy for osteoarthritis, reiki, traditional indigenous healing therapies, acupuncture, even that woo of woo, that quackery to rule all quackeries, homeopathy…

You can read the NYT article and Orac’s post about the new project, in which an entire oncology service is being revamped to promote such treatments as Yoga, Urban Zen and aromatherapy. Yoga masters, Zen instructors and a feng shui master are being turned loose on the ward.
While the project is unashamedly promotional (they’ve got T shirts emblazoned with “The Unstoppable PATH/Patient Awareness Towards Healing”) the leaders make a weak claim of doing research. According to the Times article:

While other hospitals in New York and across the country have dabbled in yoga, the new Beth Israel project is broader, better financed and more integrated into the medical protocol, and because of Ms. Karan’s concern that it might be dismissed as touchy-feely nonsense, it includes a research component. Ms. Karan hopes to prove…

Stop. Red flag. This isn’t objective research. It’s somebody setting out to prove something they’re already promoting and are already convinced “works.” What form will the “research” take? Comments from one of the project leaders, according to the NYT piece, weren’t scientifically promising:

But Dr. Benjamin Kligler, the research director in integrative family medicine for the Beth Israel-affiliated Continuum Center for Health and Healing and the research project’s principal investigator, acknowledged that the experiment of yoga teachers and their interaction with patients did not lend itself to the random, double-blind placebo trials favored in the medical world.

“The truth is, from a very traditional research perspective, that’s a problem,” Dr. Kligler conceded, adding that it might be time for the medical establishment to consider a new research model for what he called “lifestyle interventions.”

The only rigorous way to study modalities like Yoga is in a single blinded fashion with comparable “sham” postures and mantras in the comparison group. But as I said before that type of research has never been done with modalities like Yoga and, judging from the comments of the boosters of this study, is unlikely to be done in this instance.


Anonymous said...

I understand the concerns, and I agree with them.

But we keep making it harder for hospitals to get paid with DRG undercoding, "never events", more uninsured and underinsured.

We keep adding more unfunded mandates to hospitals.

How else can they keep their doors open except by increasing revenue? And how can they do that without the woo factor?

Make it easier for the health care system (and docs, and nurses) to stay fiancially viable and the woo with fade out quickly.

R. W. Donnell said...

Good point. Maybe then woo would become a "never event."