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Honoring How Powerful Consumers Known as Bravewell Implanted Integrative Medicine in the System

11/26/2013 02:49 pm ET | Updated Jan 26, 2014

That alternative medicine is a consumer movement is well known.

Less known or appreciated is how a powerful group of consumers shaped the movement to implant these alternatives into conventional treatment. These consumers partnered with medical doctors to promote the movement in academic medicine and health systems called "integrative medicine." This blog traces their strategic work at the time of their announced departure from the scene.

A Collaborative Led by Women in Philanthropy

In the late 1990s, a small group of mainly 50-65 years old women formed the Philanthropic Collaborative for Integrative Medicine. They re-named it the Bravewell Collaborative in 2001. Their handprints are all over integrative medicine's transformational work in the ensuing 14 years.

On Nov. 8, 2013, these consumers as philanthropists celebrated their 5th and last black tie gala in New York City. The collaborative has chosen to "sunset" its organization believing that the movement is healthy and well on its way.

Bravewell's core is a women's group of spouses to financially successful men. The organization's dynamic duo of leaders gives you an idea. The initial president was Penny George, spouse of the former Medtronic's chair Bill George, and the key backer of the nation's most significant inpatient-outpatient integrative medicine center. The second is Christy Mack, spouse of Morgan Stanley's former chair John Mack, who invested $10 million in Duke's program. A half dozen other women round most of the Bravewell team.

These are women of substantial means. They stamped on Bravewell's work a hard-headed, strategic programming that led to remarkable success.

Hard-Headed, Strategic Program Choices

At the New York gathering, Mack recalled her highest sense of achievement. In 1999, the Bravewell convened a dozen academic leaders interested in integrative medicine. Via start-up grants and a five-year sustaining donation, they seeded what is now the 54 medical school strong Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine. The Consortium, as it is known, is the engine of growth for the field.

Anyone who knows how intensely competitive the publish-or-perish battlefield of academic medicine can be will know what a remarkable achievement this is.

The engine for change was in place, but while the public knew about "alternative medicine," this new thing, "integrative medicine," was yet an artifact of a still rarefied, academic dialogue.

So these well-to-do consumers made a handsome donation to PBS to sponsor a widely-viewed documentary entitled The New Medicine. They added tactical investments to keep the show in front of the public. I, for example, attended a viewing at Seattle Town Hall. It was one of many such events across the country.

Imbuing the Movement with Intellectual Authority

But how was the field to be quickly endowed with intellectual and medical authority?

Bravewell donated $445,000 to the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences to host what became the 2009 Summit on Integrative Medicine and the Health of the Public. The IOM is considered the nation's guiding light in health care.

The Summit melded a mix of conventional icons like Donald Berwick, M.D. with integrative medicine leaders like Kenneth Pelletier, Ph.D. and Yale's David Katz, M.D., MPH. Berwick articulated a set of integrative medicine principles.
"Integrative medicine" became part of the highest level of conceptual discussion about the future of medicine in the U.S. IOM president Harvey Fineberg, M.D. and executive director Judith Salerno, M.D., MS each performed significant roles in the recent Bravewell swansong in New York.

Talk is one thing. Evidence is necessary for integrative medicine's optimal advance. Bravewell's leadership used multiple means to skin this cat. They sponsored the Bravenet Practice-Based Research Network to capture outcomes of integrative medicine centers.

Impatient with research's slow time frame, they made a savvy decision to sponsor a survey. They published Integrative Medicine in America: How Integrative Medicine Is Being Practiced in Clinical Centers Across the United States. In the media, these perceptions were reported as though they were frank evidence of proven value. Brilliant!

Presently, one of Bravewell's two "legacy projects" in their plan to sunset operations in 2015 is a data registry that it has dubbed PRIMIER: Patients Receiving Integrative Medicine Interventions Effectiveness Registry. This tail of donations will keep the evidence coming.

All of this is worth little strategically if there are not medical doctors educated to a standard to lead programs in mainstream systems.

Tools and Training for Agent Provocateurs in the New Era

Again, this collaborative of mainly women consumers of alternatives to regular medicine attacked the strategic problem in multiple ways. They developed a Bravewell Fellowship Program through which they provided scholarships to the Fellowship in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. Bravewell's blessing helped Arizona program become the de-facto standard.

The investment paid handsomely. This program and the Arizona leadership have been a driving force in creating a new Board Certification in Integrative Medicine. In effect, Bravewell's investment is helping define the new M.D. specialty in integrative medicine.

The organization's final legacy project is also sets up the future. The Leadership Program in Integrative Healthcare at Duke is meant to provide tools for emerging leaders in health system transformation to shift to an integrative health and medicine model.

Clearly, the medical system has not been utterly transformed by these powerful consumers. Yet if one turns around and looks at how far the field has come, and how many key thresholds for change have a Bravewell touch, the impact cannot be overstated.

One may take issue with this or that in this strategic plan. I have in various blogs, and more than once, while also saluting their work along the way. But there is no question: These visionary consumers-as-philanthropists imagined and fulfilled on a multifaceted, whole system, brilliant strategy to implant integrative medical doctors inside the medical industry and the values of health and healing in the system. This is a wee bit of thanks to these passionate consumers-as-leaders.

Now we will see what these agent provocateurs will do with the umbilicus to Bravewell's strategic partnership cut.