“Integrative medicine” is a term that has become very trendy in the health and wellness industry. It’s an approach inspired by some of the leaders in the Functional Medicine movement. As soon as it became evident that patients demand it which means there are big dollars at stake, even mainstream medicine is coming on board. Cleveland Clinic has opened a dedicated wing for Integrative and Lifestyle Medicine as has Johns Hopkins with their Integrative Medicine and Digestive Center.
So, what is it exactly?
It’s healthcare designed to treat the whole person (shocker). Many of us in the natural healthcare industry who have been practicing with this mindset for decades can’t help but roll our eyes a little bit at this “new” movement, but it is one to celebrate.
It feels to me like the general public is just catching up with how I’ve been living for most of my life personally, and now professionally for close to 25 years. What we see in the integrative circles of healthcare is a coming-together of East and West, an acceptance of the interdependence of both sides.
“Integration” refers to the coordination of care between mainstream Western medicine and traditional or “alternative” methods including but not limited to acupuncture, chiropractic, massage therapy, yoga, meditation and other lifestyle modifications. You can find “Functional Medicine” on Wikipedia defined as: medical practice or treatments that focus on optimal functioning of the body and its organs, usually involving systems of holistic or alternative medicine.
The functional medicine movement was started by a chiropractor with a PhD in biochemistry – Jeffrey Bland. He bravely championed the long held old-world wisdom of viewing health and disease not as a linear process between one cause and one effect, but rather a complex symphony with multiple orchestral sections that all depend on each other for harmony. Now people like Mark Hyman MD and a slew of others, straddling mainstream and traditional methods, have embraced this much needed common-sense approach.
Integration? Or Collaboration?
What we are seeing and hearing increasingly from numerous medical centers and hospitals, as many of them move to offer these kinds of approaches under one roof, is validation of this kind of wisdom-medicine for use in the Western model.
This week’s national news headlines on ABC’s GMA morning programming included a story highlighting the benefits of integrative medicine for cancer patients at all stages of care. The use of acupuncture, movement therapy like yoga, massage and meditation were given as examples of treatment methods used to address the emotional, spiritual and physical needs together.
Some of you who follow this blog know that, just a few weeks ago, I attended a conference held by the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine (AIHM) where I met medical doctors, physician assistants, nurses, naturopaths, acupuncturists and other chiropractors. All of us together acknowledging the role of each other’s specialties in the full care of a patient while remembering to also live the path that we advocate for by indulging in some reflective self care.
In conversation with someone over breakfast at this AIHM conference I shared that I am a chiropractor in solo practice. I was met with “So you don’t actually practice integrative medicine…”
This took me aback a bit because I believe I actually do the ultimate integrative practice. This exchange made me consider that perhaps the confusion is with the concept of “collaborative” vs. “integrative”. Solo practice means I run a one-woman-show but does not preclude my patients from receiving collaborative (or “integrative”) care. In my opinion collaboration is essential to integrative approaches.
This meeting of two worlds, in my opinion, can happen just as effectively in a more expansive community setting and not just under one roof. Successful collaborative care for the whole person is much more about the attitudes of providers than a physical facility with a name. I see my job as more of a healthcare traffic cop of sorts.
With the training that every chiropractor receives – to serve as a primary / portal of entry provider – we are charged with the responsibility of knowing when chiropractic will serve our patients and when other modalities are more appropriate or needed in conjunction with our work. Who better then, to assess and help patients prioritize treatment methods and direct them to the right practitioners?
I am extremely comfortable with my limitations as a practitioner and for true whole-person healthcare I think it’s essential to beware the delusion that any one of us can be everything to everyone.
For patients who don’t yet have a healthcare team, I regularly bring their attention to physiatry, physical therapy, massage, acupuncture, psychotherapy, and whenever needed, direct them back to their mainstream medical provider or any number of medical specialists.
Do you have a healthcare team of alternative and mainstream providers? Are you enjoying the integrative medicine movement? You deserve to. Status quo is changing. Expect more.