Darlene Carreon, 31, walks the labyrinth as a form of meditation at the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine, where she also practices yoga.

Darlene Carreon, 31, walks the labyrinth as a form of meditation at the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine, where she also practices yoga. Photo by Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine

Health Perspective

Communispace Corp., a marketing consultant company in Boston, published a new study that showed that millennials define their health and wellness more broadly than older generations. Nearly half consider maintaining a work/life balance of utmost importance when trying to stay healthy, ranking it higher than regular dental and physical exams, and even higher than having health insurance. Millennials are more likely than previous generations to embrace alternative medicine such as acupuncture, meditation and massage. And over a quarter of them say organic, natural and nontoxic products are part of maintaining their health and wellness. These trends indicate that millennials are concerned with wellness of the entire self — mind, body and spirit — better known as holistic medicine.

Suhar believes the demand for integrative medicine has been growing for years and millennials are accelerating that growth.

“I see young patients now who come in, aggressive about their health,” Suhar said. “You used to see young people come in who ate Taco Bell daily and didn’t take care of themselves. Not anymore. Young people are exercising, making good food choices and asking about things like organic and non-GMO foods. I think they’re awakening from what’s already been out there, and the movement is clearly growing.”

Meeting Millennial Needs

Health care providers are taking the hint. Locally, the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine combines the best practices of eastern and Western medicine to help complement traditional care. The center offers fitness centers and yoga classes, pain and weight management programs and integrative treatment for patients fighting cancer.

“Younger people want doctors that know about prevention, exercise and nutrition,” Suhar said. “They don’t just want a doctor that treats illnesses, but a doctor that treats the whole person.”

Kaiser Permanente has practiced this kind of health care for years, said spokesman Rodger Dougherty.

“With new provisions in the Affordable Care Act, a lot of health care providers are moving towards prevention,” Dougherty said. “Sick care used to be how hospitals made money. It was fee-for-service. If the beds were full, then you’re making money. But for us there’s never been a financial incentive for our doctors to do anything but keep their patients healthy. In fact, from a financial billing perspective, exactly the opposite is the case.”

Kaiser is an integrated system in which the hospital, health plan and physician group are all under one umbrella, making wellness and prevention a high priority for the entire organization, Dougherty said. However, the hospital system has taken note of the millennials push for holistic medicine. Dougherty said the system has a targeted campaign called OwnNow, which uses social media and fitness events to appeal to millennials.

“We have alternative health options available for total health — mind, body and spirit,” Dougherty said. “We embrace many mentalities.”

Gradual Acceptance

Embracing alternative medicine has not always been commonplace in health care. Many physicians today still scoff at certain methods, calling eastern medicine “quackery” and “bogus.”

A cardiologist by training, Suhar had to go back to school to be trained in integrative medicine.

“When I started this new career, I was teased by a lot of my colleagues who actually used that term, ‘quackery,’” Suhar said. “There are still some physicians who believe that, but those physicians have not been trained to know the research. Alternative therapies were not being taught to that generation of physicians, but there’s a big movement now bringing integrative medicine to medical schools. Young doctors are being taught this, so we’re going to see change as the new generation of millennial physicians enter the workforce.”

Suhar added that the mindset of his colleagues is already changing, and physicians that used to tease him now refer patients to him.