What is Integrative Medicine?
Integrative medicine describes a model for medicine based on individualized, patient-centered, and research-based approaches. Its underlying principal is to determine how and why illness occurs and to restore health by addressing
the root causes of poor health for each individual. This model requires a detailed understanding of each patient’s genetic, biochemical, and lifestyle factors and uses that data to direct a personalized approach toward a more
improved patient outcome. Integrative medicine practitioners acknowledge the complexity of the human condition and the diversity amongst individuals.
What’s the difference between the Conventional Medicine Model & The Integrative Medicine Model?
The Conventional Medicine Model aims at treating a disease and managing symptoms. It is based on a “standard of care” which is developed based on average outcomes for each disease or population. This model relies heavily on
pharmaceuticals to manage symptoms and often doesn’t treat the underlying metabolic imbalance that is contributing to a condition or its symptoms, which has caused dramatic increases in the prevalence of chronic diseases and the
cost to treat them. The Conventional Medicine Model tends to ignore the complexity of disease and the variety of individual genetic, lifestyle and biochemical factors that can contribute, resulting in a less patient-centered
The Integrative Medicine Model aims at treating an individual as a whole and recognizes the variations in illness manifestation. This model focuses on determining & reversing the underlying metabolic imbalance(s) contributing
to an unhealthy condition, with the goal to eventually eliminate the signs of poor health altogether. The Integrative Medicine approach has proven to reverse the trend toward increased chronic disease costs, by aiming to reverse
the underlying causes of poor health, instead of just treating symptoms, which provides better patient outcomes and cost savings for both patients and healthcare centers.
Why should I see an Integrative Doctor?
Chronic diseases account for 86% of all healthcare costs1, and half of all adults have at least one chronic condition2, making appropriate treatment of chronic disease imperative. Management of chronic
conditions is complex and requires the individualized approach of Integrative Medicine. Treating these conditions only by managing symptoms is counterproductive, because the underlying cause has not been addressed, and symptoms
will only continue to increase in severity, requiring more medication and resulting in a viscous cycle of worsening health, increased healthcare costs and decreased quality of life for a patient. Integrative medicine aims at
preventing disease before symptoms show and reversing underlying imbalances that cause disease, minimizing the overall disease state and improving patient outcomes.
Integrative medicine utilizes natural approaches in addition to pharmaceutical approaches and also focuses on the role that diet & lifestyle factors play in disease, adding a full spectrum of treatment approaches to improve outcomes.
Integrative doctors understand conventional medicine and use many of its diagnostic tools and treatments in their practices. They also bring an array of insights into treatment plans and health management strategies that typically
are not taught in conventional medical schools and might not be available from a conventional medical doctor. One example is the use of plant-based medicines (botanicals).
What types of Integrative Practitioners are there?
Naturopathic Doctor (ND):
Licensed naturopathic doctors combine knowledge of the body’s natural healing properties with the rigors of modern science to focus on holistic, proactive prevention and comprehensive diagnosis and treatment.
By using protocols that minimize the risk of harm, naturopathic physicians help facilitate the body’s inherent ability to restore and maintain optimal health. They also are trained to use prescription drugs, although they emphasize
less toxic substances that promote natural healing first, aiming to provide the greatest benefit with the least potential for damage. Naturopathic doctors can order all blood reference range and diagnostic imaging tests. They can
also order individualized specialty functional medicine labs, such as those for assessing digestive impairment, hormone imbalances, heavy metal and/or environmental toxin exposure, nutritional deficiencies, and adrenal dysregulation.
Chiropractors focus on diagnosis and treatment of neuromuscular disorders, with an emphasis on physical modalities like spinal manipulation. Chiropractors follow the same integrative medicine model, but focus on
the intimate relationship between the nervous system and the spine, aiming to restore the structural integrity of the spine and consequently improve the overall health of an individual. Many chiropractors also add nutritional and
other types of integrative therapy to their practices, but are limited in the amount of conventional procedures and tests they can perform or order.
Doctor of Osteopathy (DO):
Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine are fully licensed physicians and provide a full range of services, similar to MD’s, including prescribing drugs and performing surgery. DO’s distinguish themselves from
traditional MD’s in their approach to patient care: they follow the integrative medicine model and treat patients as a whole, with emphasis on preventing or delaying disease onset or reversing underlying disease causes.
Integrative Medical Doctor (MD):
These Medical Doctors are traditionally trained in conventional medicine approaches, but have added integrative medicine concepts and approaches into their practices. They recognize the role
supplements, herbs, diet, genetic and lifestyle factors can play in disease and follow the integrative medicine approach to determining underlying imbalances, and treat a patient as a whole. In addition, these doctors have access
to traditional medical and surgical procedures and tests that many other integrative practitioners do not.
Other integrative medicine practitioners include: acupuncturists, massage therapists and nutritionists.
How should I choose an Integrative/Functional Doctor?
Most importantly, all doctors who you seek medical treatment from should have appropriate training and credentials: degrees from accredited colleges or universities and have passed rigorous board exams to obtain licensure.
Additionally, ask questions to determine if a provider is a good fit. Some examples of questions you might ask before you schedule a visit:
- Do you work with other clinicians? –Nutritionists, acupuncturists, etc?
- Do you have experience treating my condition(s)?
- What type of training do you have in integrative medicine?
- Do you take insurance?
- What are your main therapies or treatment options? (dietary, chiropractic, supplements, prescriptions)
- Do you use laboratory tests? Are they covered by insurance?
- What is the cost of an office visit?
Don’t be afraid to explore your options and communicate your needs!
How do Integrative medicine doctors empower people to take control of their health?
Living with a chronic disease or in constant pain can be debilitating, and the most common conventional medicine approach, prescription drugs, provides unwanted side effects and does little to treat the underlying cause. With a
treatment model that utilizes natural and holistic approaches first, integrative medicine offers effective alternatives to pharmaceuticals. Integrative doctors also specialize in a patient-centered approach, treating
each patient individually and allowing patients to become involved in their care. Additionally, integrative doctors can typically provide options that reverse the metabolic imbalances that caused symptoms in the first place, and
show the patient diet and lifestyle interventions to move them back toward a state of overall health, encouraging them to take an active role in their treatment plan, with improved patient outcomes that keep them motivated and
improve their overall well-being.
What type of information is discussed in an initial Integrative Medicine appointment?
During your first visit, an integrative medicine practitioner will take your health history, ask questions about your diet, stress levels, lifestyle habits and exercise, use of tobacco and alcohol, prescription drugs and supplements
you are taking, and discuss the reasons you sought out an integrative doctor. He or she might also perform a physical examination and order diagnostic tests. Based on findings, the doctor will work with you to set up a customized
treatment plan and health management strategy. If necessary, the doctor will refer you to other health care practitioners.