News

Patients get the point at Whidbey General

By Rick Levin

Staff reporter

Hypos aren’t the only needles being poked into patients at Whidbey General Hospital these days.

In keeping with the hospital’s progressive “Patients First” philosophy of health care, officials at WGH have brought aboard a licenced acupuncturist to provide collaborative care in the areas of pain management and rehabilitation.

As part of this 6-month pilot project, Seattle-based acupuncturist Paul Karsten will be lending a hand — and a few precisely placed acupuncture needles — in support of various WGH departments, including Rehabilitations Services, Home Healthcare & Hospice and the Medical Ambulatory Care/Oncology Clinic. After the trial period, officials will assess how acupuncture integrates with existing health care practices. Based on the outcome of their analyses, officials may decide to expand acupuncture services in the future.

According to Rene Yanke, clinic manager for WGH’s ambulatory care program, the new program is part of the hospital’s mission to expand and enhance patient services through the addition of complementary therapies. She pointed to recent studies that found a high percentage of cancer patients are supplementing more traditional treatments with such things as massage therapy.

“We’re really looking at the role of acupuncture in symptom management, especially for cancer,” Yanke said Tuesday. “We’re not looking at it as a cure for diseases, but as a way to work with chronic illnesses and to improve people’s quality of life.”

She said Karsten, who will be in the hospital one day a week on Wednesday mornings, will work in conjunction with patients already being seen by other hospital staff. She added that folks just walking in looking to see an acupuncturist will be referred outside the hospital.

Yanke said acupuncture treatment has been proven in many cases as providing a valuable support to more conventional treatments. “Acupuncture is something that has been identified as providing assistance with nausea and pain,” she said. “It’s just about helping people work with and to control their symptoms. It’s truly to help support people, to help them feel better.”

She said Karsten will begin taking patients within the next couple of weeks.

A graduate of SAMRA University of Oriental Medicine and currently president of the Seattle Institute of Oriental Medicine, Karsten will utilize the age-old Chinese medical practice to treat chronic disorders as well as help alleviate pain and other symptoms of illness.

Originating in China some 2000 to 3000 years ago, acupuncture is the practice of placing thin needles under the skin in order to stimulate the body’s natural healing ability. Western medicine of late has recognized the positive role acupuncture can play in pain management and the control of nausea and vomiting.

More specifically, the placement of the thin, metal needles in specific acupuncture sites located along “energy channels” throughout the body somehow affects the release of chemicals that can enhance healing and alleviate pain. Some individuals have even had success quitting smoking through a few well-placed needles, while others have found the practice mitigates stress.

However, patient response to such treatment can vary, running the gamut from those who experience immediate improvement to others who notice little to no change in their symptoms.

During the trial period, acupuncture services at WGH generally will be used in a straight-forward collaborative role, to support more traditional health care services such as rehab and oncology. Patients will need a referral or prescription from a hospital physician to “get the point.”

Of course, all acupuncture needles will be properly disposed of immediately after each treatment.

Yanke said she and the rest of the staff at WGH are excited about the healing possibilities contained in acupuncture as well as other new programs such as massage therapy.

“I think there’s a lot of untapped potential in some of these therapies that can work very well in conjunction with conventional treatments,” she said.

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