The medical and spa industries
As the medical and spa industries continue to integrate services, staffing, treatments and protocols, a respect for the talents of each discipline emerges. The combination of medicine and holistic healing is an excellent recipe when correctly balanced. European spas base their healing philosophies on such services as thalassotherapy, balneotherapy and, recently, radon therapies. However, they are not always as adept at creating the level of guest experience expected in Western cultures, which include additional features of comfort, relaxation and personal attention before and after actual services.

In the U.S. and Canada, exceptional customer service standards are offered in the actual spa experiences themselves, as well as during time spent before and after the service. This approach stems from the culture of the service-focused hospitality and lodging industry, where many spas were initially located. In recent years, this North American spa culture has begun to embrace and respect European and Eastern spa traditions, while maintaining the atmosphere of luxury to which Westerners are accustomed. This synergy has created a spa experience that is not only a relaxing treat, but therapeutic as well. We know that there is a powerful relationship between mind and body in healthy as well as diseased times, thus the combination of European and Eastern therapies alongside Western traditions of a well-appointed experience make spa-going a complete, marketable and lucrative business.

According to Susie Ellis, wellness heads the list of 2008 spa trends. Although wellness means different things to different people, the overall idea of de-stressing and feeling comfortable, and gaining back a bit of time in an overly busy day, appeals to the majority of the market of spa-goers. While the medical spa industry generally does not offer holistic services, this segment of the industry is accepting the wellness trend in order to make the patient, or guest, feel better immediately.

Medical spas that do not offer at least some wellness services are missing an opportunity, specifically in the treatment of menopause, arthritis, breast cancer and other cancers, diabetes and those living with spinal cord injuries/disease. Patients/guests living with these as well as other health challenges could truly benefit from a nonclinical experience, and they would relish the opportunity of relaxation during their treatments. Prime examples of wellness services offering benefit to medical patients are lymphatic drainage massage and the use of arnica, which provides exceptional healing properties. Additionally, lymphedema management therapies are excellent in controlling the side effects of breast cancer treatment; acupuncture has been known to aid in the treatment of women’s health issues (menstruation, infertility, menopause, etc.), acute and chronic pain, digestive disorders and chronic diseases (hepatitis c, fibromyalgia, etc.); and neuromuscular therapy provides relief of chronic pain, including back pain, headaches, carpal tunnel syndrome, hip and knee problems, scoliosis, etc.

Water therapies, the origins of spa, provide further opportunities in the wellness industry. Thalassotherapy (from the Greek word thalassa, meaning “sea”) is the medical use of seawater and balneotherapy (the medical use of bathing) are both excellent holistic therapies that can complement treatments in a medical spa facility. The properties of seawater are believed to have beneficial effects upon the pores of the skin, as well as internal organs. While not yet proven scientifically, these therapies are applied in various forms: showers of warmed seawater, applications of marine mud or algae paste or the inhalation of sea fog. Patients with cardiac and respiratory disease, thyroid dysfunction, arteriosclerosis, diabetes mellitus and eye diseases have reported relief during these therapies. The trace elements of magnesium, potassium, calcium sulfates, sodium and iodine, found in seawater, are believed to be absorbed through the skin, thus creating the medicinal benefit. CuisinArt Resort and Spa in Anguilla offers Thalassotherapies, and it has recently expanded its spa to include a Thalasso pool to provide healing therapies to spa guests.

An alternative medicine breakdown
The term alternative medicine, as used in the modern Western world, encompasses any healing practice “that does not fall within the realm of conventional medical treatments.” Some treatments include naturopathy, chiropractic services, herbalism, traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic treatments, meditation, yoga, biofeedback, hypnosis, bodywork, homeopathy and diet-based therapies, in addition to a range of other practices. These services are complementary to many mainstream medical techniques. Spas may incorporate or base themselves on traditional medicine, folk knowledge, spiritual beliefs or newly conceived approaches to healing. The claims made by alternative medicine practitioners are generally not accepted by the medical community because evidence-based proof is not available regarding the safety and efficacy of many of these practices. However, when a patient feels good and experiences a benefit of relief, they return for additional services.

If scientific investigation and studies establish the safety and effectiveness of an alternative medical practice, we are confident it will be adopted by conventional practitioners. Universities and hospitals throughout the country, such as Henry Ford Health Systems (working closely with NRi), University of Maryland Medical School, Scripps Hospital, Stanford and Duke, all are incorporating an element of holistic practice.

Lastly, it is important to work closely with medical practitioners and combine spa services with local hospitals or medical offices in your area. Keep in mind that traditional physicians may be skeptical; however, this simply comes from their protectiveness toward their patients. Working together for the common goal of patient and guest care will assist with a smooth integration process.

Those who have health, have life; those who have life, have everything.

Kelly Costa Gravitt is the medical spa account manager at Natural Resources Spa Consulting, Inc., a leading international spa consulting firm celebrating 15 years in the industry. Natural Resources Spa Consulting, Inc. marks this anniversary as a tribute to the evolution of the spa industry during this time period.