Whole Systems Within Whole Systems: The Oregon Health Plan's Expansion of Services for Back and Neck Pain

Emery R. Eaves, Clarissa W. Hsu, Lynn L. Debar, Catherine J. Livingston, Laura E. Ocker, Sarah J. McDonald, Laurel Dillon-Sumner, Cheryl Ritenbaugh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Objectives: The authors employ a Whole Systems framework to explore implementation of new guidelines for back and neck pain in Oregon's Medicaid system. Whole Systems research is useful for understanding the relationship between complementary and integrative health care (CIH) and conventional health care systems in real-world clinical and practice settings. Design: Preliminary results are from an observational study designed to evaluate state-wide implementation of CIH and other non-pharmacological treatments for neck and back pain among Oregon Medicaid patients. This natural experiment, even in early stages, provides insight into the challenges of integrating Whole Systems oriented therapies into Medicaid billing and treatment. Methods: Qualitative data are drawn from: (1) semi-structured interviews with representatives of each of the 16 coordinated care organizations (CCOs) responsible for administering the Oregon's Medicaid insurance through the Oregon Health Plan (OHP); and (2) open-ended survey responses from acupuncturists in all 16 CCO areas. Results: Implementation of the new policy guidelines poses logistical and epistemological challenges. Differences in worldview, inadequate reimbursement, and simple lack of awareness of CIH among medical providers are some of the factors that pose barriers to merging CIH therapies into conventional frameworks. Conclusions: In this article, we explore the potential for a Whole Systems perspective to better explain the complexity of integrating CIH and other non-pharmacological services into a state financed health care system. Oregon's expansion of services for back and neck pain presents an opportunity to explore challenges and successes in melding multiple approaches to health and pain management into a managed system such as the OHP.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S61-S68
JournalJournal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine
Issue numberS1
StatePublished - Mar 2019


  • Whole systems research
  • chronic pain
  • complementary and alternative medicine
  • complementary and integrative health care
  • opioid response

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Complementary and alternative medicine


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