You may be among the many Americans who have become increasingly dissatisfied with our changing system of healthcare delivery. Stress on the system continues to build and truly patient-centered high-quality medical attention is becoming increasingly difficult to find. In the wake of all these changes, many are finding alternatives to the western healthcare model that are more appealing than ever before.
But what alternatives are available? Are they safe? Do they even help? To whom do we turn for guidance and answers? Gladly, a relatively new field of medicine has emerged over the past decade to help guide us on a broader path to better health.
Integrative Medicine is now a board-recognized medical specialty offering evidence-based guidance beyond the walls of healthcare as we may see it today. The conventional western approach reduces us to mere flesh, bones, and organs inflicted by disease or pathology. Integrative medicine shifts the focus to you as a whole human being with intact systems of adaptation who’s constantly interacting with your environment.
Where conventional treatment might aim to identify, attack, destroy, or eliminate a disease process, integrative medicine expands to include ways of bringing your body systems back into balance, increasing your defenses, promoting healing, optimizing function, and preventing disease in the first place.
Treatment options include all the therapeutic approaches conventional healthcare providers use today, plus expand to encompass those of other complementary disciplines available to achieve optimal health and healing. Ultimately you will have access to the best of modern clinical medicine as well as other carefully selected alternative modalities known to be effective and safe.
The integrative medicine model also recognizes the critical role the practitioner-patient relationship plays in the overall healthcare experience. Trained integrative doctors invest the time to get to know you and your lifestyle. They understand the most effective recommendations take into account all your individual interrelated physical and nonphysical characteristics collectively influence health, wellness, and disease.
Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Many people mistakenly use the term integrative medicine with the terms complementary medicine and alternative medicine, also known collectively as CAM. While integrative medicine is not synonymous with CAM, CAM therapies do make up an important part of the integrative medicine model.
Scientific evidence shows that CAM therapies such as acupuncture, yoga, meditation, and guided imagery are effective and they are increasingly integrated into today’s conventional treatment of heart disease, cancer, and other serious illnesses. Coordinating all of the evidence-based care options is a cornerstone of the integrative medicine approach. Your integrative primary care physician may work in tandem with such practitioners as your specialist physician, integrative health coach, nutritionist, massage therapist, chiropractor, or acupuncturist.
Optimizing Function versus treating disease
Modern medical care is indispensable when it comes to serious acute illness or trauma. When the problem can be reduced to a specific diagnosis, highly targeted and effective treatment may be available. But, too often typical diagnostic studies fail to identify disease, or worse, something is found for which there is no cure. In this case, modern western medical care falls short having little to offer you outside therapies designed to ablate or mask your symptoms.
Many people are suffering today accepting their poor quality of life on multiple prescription drugs, convinced there is nothing more to be done. When drug therapy is maximized, we are told to consider our declining function as a normal part of aging. Most of us live today free of disease but at the same time quite short of feeling great or performing as well as we could. But integrative physicians believe being free of disease is not the same as being well!
Your health lies instead on a continuous spectrum, from one end feeling great fully optimized, to the other end feeling terrible and dysfunctional. The goal of integrative holistic therapy is to shift you as far toward the right end of the spectrum as possible regardless of your disease status or threshold. Not only will you feel and perform better, but your own powerful innate healing ability kicks in to naturally repair damage and resists disease.
Advanced Diagnostics and Therapy
The modern integrative doctor considers the most powerful diagnostic tool to be the interview with you. Visits may take hours as the doctor works to know you as well as possible. Your goals, priorities, capabilities, and lifestyle will all be considered when giving recommendations.
Common laboratory diagnostics are available, but the integrative physician includes a whole array of more advanced specialized testing to evaluate your health on the cellular and molecular level. These evaluate such things as signaling peptides, hormones, and neurotransmitters, genetic mutations influencing major biochemical pathways, chemical and food sensitivities, exposures to toxins, hidden chronic infections, and gut bacterial diversity and health.
When it comes to making recommendations, the goal of therapy is to restore your body balance and to optimize function in the least invasive, most natural way possible. Modern integrative doctors will invariably recommend some type of lifestyle therapy to help address health issues related to your diet, physical activity, or response to stress. Targeted therapy may include replacing the specific micronutrient deficiencies or those necessary to support your individual genetic biochemical weaknesses. You may also be a candidate for replacement therapy with the most natural bio-identical hormones. Other integrative therapies may target your existing diagnoses such as anxiety, diabetes, or hypertension with the goal to reduce your need for drugs, thus reducing potential risks and side effects.
Cost and Insurance Coverage
Unfortunately, many of the advanced diagnostics and complementary and alternative therapies recommended by integrative medicine doctors today may not be completely covered by insurance. In fact, rarely will you find a trained integrative doctor willing to bill insurance today. Insurance reimbursement schemes just don’t allow enough time for a truly effective doctor’s visit. The good news is that there is a growing wave of public demand, and the tide seems to be turning.
Some insurance policies are covering select treatments such as acupuncture, mind-body therapies, and chiropractic care. Insurance companies are also realizing that a shift from the current time, disease, and procedure-based reimbursement to a more integrative outcome-based one promises to save them money. Changes are happening as we speak and you can bet in the future more doctors will be adequately incentivized to practice more integrative medicine helping you stay well, off of drugs, away from the operating room, and out of the hospital.
Until then, if you’re fed up with the way you’ve been treated by the current healthcare system or you just want an integrative specialist’s second opinion, you might have to pay out of pocket. Fortunately, you’re likely to save money and come out ahead in the end. Patients who have access to a trained integrative doctor typically need fewer medications, procedures, hospitalizations, and doctor visits. Most importantly, they generally live healthier, longer, more productive lives.
Here we are lucky to have to practice in our community a leader in the field of integrative health and medicine. Dr. Patrick Yassini is a medical doctor who is double board-certified in family medicine as well as integrative and holistic medicine. He practices at Peak Health Group and is available for general consultations and second opinions. Dr. Yassini is also accepting limited new long-term primary care patients but only after a complimentary face-to-face meeting where you will get to know him and make sure it a good fit.