Ground-Breaking Research on Integrative Medicine that may Help People Living with Chronic Pain [Interview][Transcript]


Guest: Dr Katherine Gergen Barnett
Presenter: Wayne Bucklar
Guest Bio: Dr Katherine Gergen Barnett is the Director of the Integrative Medicine Clinical Services at Boston Medical Centre where she also serves as a primary care clinician. Dr. Gergen Barnett attended Yale University School of Medicine. As a medical student, she worked at the National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institute for Health, studied holistic medicine with Dr. Andrew Weil, lived on a pueblo/reservation, created a course for medical students on spirituality and medicine, and completed a fellowship studying a model  of group prenatal care. Her primary interests are preventive medicine, nutrition, mindfulness-based stress reduction, women’s health, and group care.
Segment overview: In today’s Health Supplier Segment, let us welcome Dr Katherine Gergen Barnett the keynote speaker for this year’s Blackmores Institute Symposium. Health practicioners attending the said symposium this month will learn more about the field of integrative medicine and the use of specific integrative medicine modalities in the United States. She will frame the data in the context of health care delivery in the United States, specifically how Integrative Medicine is still considered a set of modalities available and accessible only to patients with monetary means. Dr. Gergen Barnett will also detail how her program at Boston Medical Center is providing high quality evidence based integrative medicine care to the urban poor. She will also discuss lessons learned as well as its implications for the future promise of integrative medicine globally.


Health Professional Radio

Wayne Bucklar: You’re listening to Health Professional Radio with Wayne Bucklar. My guest today joins us from Melbourne, Australia where she is visiting from Boston in the United States. It’s Dr. Katherine Gergen Barnett and she is the Director of the Integrative Medicine Clinical Services at Boston Medical Center. Katherine’s first trip to Australia, welcome to Australia Katherine.

Dr. Katherine Gergen Barnett: Thank you so much Wayne. I’m so thrilled to be here. And thank you for having me today.

W: Now I understand you’re here as the keynote speaker for this year’s Blackmores Institute Symposium, which is this week I think?

K: That is correct, yeah. The Blackmores Institute Symposium is this weekend and I’ve been very honored to present to them some of my research my colleagues and I are doing at Boston Medical Center on the treatment of chronic pain.

W: Now Katherine integrative medicine is not something I’m familiar with, but that’s not unusual because I’m not much of a clinician at all I’m afraid. Is that what you’re going to be talking about?

K: So let me just backup by saying you’re not alone and knowing so much about integrative medicine is a new in some ways a new field but certainly a growing field although it really draws upon many ancient traditions. Some of which are in the instance of traditional Chinese medicine over 2000 years old. So it’s really a study of medicine and a practice of medicine that brings in evidence based modalities both in the western medicine tradition such as pharmaceutical, surgery etc., as well from the other traditions such as “Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine and some Indian medicine.” Really to bring health and wellness to our patients in safe and effective means. And what I will be speaking about the conference during the keynote is really some of where we’ve gotten our current state of medicine today which is very much as we all know for anybody who has either been a patient or a practitioner, one that is largely burdened by chronic illness. WHO has put out many reports recently showing that the rates of Communicable Disease, ones that we’ve known for a long time are happily declining worldwide but our rates of chronic illness are going up at a rapid cliff. And the way that we have practiced medicine in traditional western medicine is excellent in so many ways and has really been a God sent in terms of treatment for communicable diseases, but in terms of treatment of chronic illness we know that we actually lack some of the tools to help people in a true kind of underlying way, and not just treating the symptoms but looking at some of the causes that maybe going on for some of the chronic illnesses and addressing those things. And again it’s no fault of any practitioner, that’s the way our system is set up. But an integrate medicine we’re really looking at mind body, spirit and how we can use all three of these things to get the person to propel to greater wellness.

W: Now Katherine as soon as you mentioned spirit, in many clinical circles it’s a degree of cynicism – your work is research based I understand?

K: Yes, yes thank you for clarifying. Yes, it’s everything we do is based on evidence in medicine. We’re very heavy research based group, we have grants from the NIH and from Federal Funding and what we’re doing in terms of your “spiritual” really looking at something called “mindfulness.” We just had a tremendous amount of literature and research behind it in terms of looking at some of these efficacies within chronic pain, and depression, cardiovascular disease. But really what we’re doing is again integrating those modalities into a larger medical setting. And so for instance with our care for people with chronic pain which is one of the main focuses of my talks at Blackmores Institute as speaker, we’re looking at how we can treat people with chronic pain using some of the integrative medicine approaches, but also really be looking at other thing such as you know –are there nutritional deficiencies that happening with our patients. Are there ways that we can kind a both through their health through things such as making inflammatory diet? Can we bring in their primary care physicians to treat them with different kinds of medication? And are we able to decrease some of their sequelae of chronic pain, such as depression by being in a group visit setting? Such as that they get support from other patients who are suffering from chronic pain and they know that they’re not alone and that actually goes a long way in decreasing their pain and suffering.

W: Now Katherine just for some of our audience who are not familiar with the American system, NIH that’s the funding body you mentioned, what is that body?

K: So that’s the National Institute of Health. That’s very well regarded collection of researchers based down in Maryland the Washington DC area that has the largest amount of federal dollar funding. And they give a number of grants through they have many different kind of branches study and they’ve given number of grants and scope procedures to get grants from them. And they’ve done tremendous work in advancing the research field on all levels of medicine.

W: Thank you for clarifying that for me.

K: Yes, thank you.

W: Given that you’re here talking about your research in pain management through this integrative approach, I assumed you’ve got some results that are fairly positive.

K: Yes, thank you for asking. So we’ve actually our group, our approach to chronic pain is called “Integrative Medicine Group Visits.” And the setup is such that a patient meet for 9 weeks in a group of up to 12 patients for 2 and half hours per session. And in that time as I shared with you many different modalities and the first set of data that we got after several years of running the group is that we had enormous reduction in pain, symptomatology we had reductions in depression, we had improvements complete, we had a reduction in perceived stress. And so our results were able to carry us forward into earning a very prestigious grant, again federally funded something called PCORI which is a patient center grant that Obama and this Affordable Care Act they are very focused on patient centered outcome. They granted us a $1.8 Million grant and look at our standard of care versus our intervention, and to see what the comparison was for our intervention with this standard of care for our patients. And so we’re currently 2 years into that study and that we haven’t published the outcomes, it’s continuing to be very exciting, very assurance in terms of the reductions in a lot of the most bothersome symptoms for people.

W: You’re listening to Health Professional Radio, my name is Wayne Bucklar. And my guest today is Dr. Katherine Gergen Barnett. Katherine is the Director of the Integrated Medicine Clinical Services at Boston Medical Center. And she is here in Australia to speak at the Blackmores Institute Symposium this week as the Keynote Speaker. Katherine many of our audience are clinicians, about 95% of them in fact are doctors, nurses, allied health professionals either in acute care or a lot in aged care. What message would you like them to take away from having heard you today?

K: So I just want us all to be able to think a little bit outside of the box in terms of taking care of our large numbers of people living with chronic pain. In Australia it’s 1 in 5 people below the age of 65. And once you get greater than 65, it’s 1 in 3 and these are very parallel in the US. And through the messages of speaking about the whole person in what you can do to improve not only treat their symptom of pain but perhaps get a little bit deeper into some of the causes of their pain. And it’s not all about fixing but rather sometimes it’s about doing, some of those causes.

W: Getting clinicians to think outside of the box is never a quick process into the health industry.

K: (giggle)

W: But I’m sure there’ll be some who’d be very interested to hear what you have to say and what you’d be saying on the weekend. Is there a common misconception about your work that drive you nuts and keep you awake at night?

K: I wouldn’t say very much keeps me awake at night, since I have 3 young children and I work full time.

W: (Laugh)

K: But I will tell you that I think this is changing happily because of the quality of research that is being done in this field, including ours at Boston Medical Center and many others in the US and the Blackmores Institute here. But I think that for me it’s really making sure that we are putting together good studies, and that we’re publishing our study so that all of us as scientific clinicians can really work together and look at the evidence, wipe away some of our biases and really look at what’s best for the patient.

W: Well let’s hope today that we can address that misconception with perhaps just a few, but will do our best. Katherine it’s been a pleasure having you on with us today. Thank you for making the time available.

K: Thank you so much Wayne. It’s an honor to do this work and to speak with you today about it.

W: If you just joined us, you’ve just missed my conversation with Dr. Katherine Gergen-Barnett who’s here for the Blackmores Institute Symposium this weekend from her regular job as the Director of Integrative Medicine Clinical Services at Boston Medical Center obviously in the US. The good news however is that on our website we have a transcript of my conversation with Katherine, we also have an audio archive on both SoundCloud and YouTube so do head off to our website at You can check at either the audio or the transcript. My name is Wayne Bucklar, you’re listening to Health Professional Radio.