What Is Integrative Medicine?
Jun 30, 2016 10:34PM
by Dr. Coleman Pratt
This is the first column in a series designed to promote awareness and understanding of the medical specialty known as Integrative Medicine and to provide readers with valuable information related to their overall health, from an integrative holistic perspective.
The Academy of Integrative Holistic Medicine (AIHM) is the governing body for the specialty of Integrative Medicine in the United States. AIHM explains this field of medicine “reaffirms the importance of the relationship between practitioner and patient, focuses on the whole person, is informed by evidence and makes use of all appropriated therapeutic approaches, healthcare professionals and professions to achieve optimal health and healing.”
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a federal agency which is part of the National Institute of Health, also states that Integrative Medicine “combines mainstream medical therapies and CAM (Complimentary and Alternative Medicine) therapies for which there is some high-quality scientific evidence of safety and effectiveness.”
So, what does that mean? Simply put, the Integrative Medicine physician has received a traditional Western medical education, but practices medicine in a way that differs from the mainstream in two key areas––the assessment of the patient and that patient’s treatment plan.
An integrative physician relies upon a deep and studied understanding of health and wellness, combined with a holistic understanding of the patient’s state of health or illness which takes the mind, body, metaphysical and even social or environmental factors into consideration. An integrative physician understands that promoting wellness––not just fighting disease––is fundamentally important, and that healthcare professionals can arrive at this point by engaging all facets of a patient's humanity.
Once the assessment of a patient is complete, the next step is creating a personalized treatment plan. An Integrative Medicine treatment plan differs from a traditional medical plan in both the diagnosis and therapeutics. An Integrative Medicine practitioner may use somewhat uncommon terms like “leaky gut,” “environmental toxins” or “myofascial pain syndrome,” as well as more common terms like “diabetes,” “emphysema’ or “hypertension” which are often heard inside a mainstream doctor’s office.
In my opinion, the specialty of Integrative Medicine is forward thinking and represents the cutting-edge of medical theory––going beyond common concepts traditionally taught in medical school. Our specialty is heavily influenced by scientific areas of study like biochemistry, biology and even quantum physics, as well as other healing philosophies from around the world like Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda or Naturopathic Medicine.
The integrative physician may have a particular area of expertise such as specialized training in acupuncture or herbal medicine. Mine, in particular, is the nexus of the mind and body. However, all Integrative Medicine practitioners should be able to help the patient choose therapies scientifically established as beneficial for that patient’s specific health needs.
For example, an integrative physician does not need to know how to perform acupuncture, but does need to know those instances when acupuncture is believed to be effective. An intricate understanding of other disciplines is not always required, but the physician should know when appropriate to make referrals to those practitioners. Nevertheless, a working knowledge of treatment options from a multitude of healing traditions is also a pre-requisite for the job.
As an integrative physician, I am able to recommend medications, surgeries and other Western medical therapeutics when science validates and even demands their use. In addition, I am prepared to holistically assess the patient’s needs, provide diagnosis that may be broader than typical medical diagnostic options, and selectively prescribe treatments that are evidence-based while also “alternative” in nature.
We have learned that some illnesses are better served by alternative therapies, and some are better served with traditional Western options, but that all patients benefit from an integrative approach. Fibromyalgia, for example, has a poor prognosis when a clinician’s only choices are to add another pill, but this condition often improves significantly when the clinician takes the whole person and alternative therapies into consideration.
Other diseases, like cancer, may need the full weight of Western medical therapeutics levied against it, but there is no doubt that patients battling cancer will also benefit from a holistic approach that strengthens the mind, body and spirit, while undoes some of the crippling harm that invasive therapies bring along with them. A wise colleague in the field once told me that she envisions cancer as weeds in a garden. Aggressive ugly tactics may be necessary to get rid of those weeds, but with Integrative Medicine, we help the rest of the garden grow beautifully and prevent those weeds from returning.
Andrew Weil, a Harvard trained medical doctor who has been at the forefront of the development of this new specialty, has identified certain key criteria for defining Integrative Medicine:
•A partnership between patient and practitioner in the healing process
•Appropriate use of conventional and alternative methods to facilitate the body's innate healing response
•Consideration of all factors that influence health, wellness and disease including body, mind, spirit and community
•A philosophy that neither rejects conventional medicine nor accepts alternative therapies uncritically
•Recognition that good medicine should be based in good science, be inquiry driven and be open to new paradigms
•Use of natural, effective and less-invasive interventions whenever possible
•Use of the broader concepts of promotion of health and the prevention of illness, as well as the treatment of disease
•Training of practitioners to be models of health and healing, committed to the process of self-exploration and self-development
Sometimes, Integrative Medicine physicians are at odds with our colleagues even though we all attended the same medical schools and completed the same residency programs, and we have spent countless hours pouring over the same thick text books as other doctors. I find this to be truly unfortunate, as it speaks poorly of the mindset that one often encounters in the hallowed halls of medicine. Ours is a specialty rooted in a progressive global and historic understanding of science and in listening to patients––elements of medicine that all physicians should revere.
I believe that Integrative Medicine is the future of healthcare. The science is catching up with the philosophy, and hopefully, more and more patients will demand a level of care that takes the whole person into consideration. If that happens, then we will finally be on the road to healing ourselves and our planet.
Dr. Coleman Pratt is Board-Certified in both Family Medicine and Integrative Holistic Medicine. He practices at his clinic Medmodern in Bradenton, and specializes in the care of Medicare Advantage patients. In addition, he offers Integrative Medicine consultations to those patients seeking to augment their current medical care with alternative therapies. Future columns will deal with Integrative therapies for common ailments and chronic disease, and with promoting health and wellness in the community. Please contact Dr. Pratt with suggestions for topics which you think may be beneficial at 941-251-4612.