So what is Integrative Medicine anyway?
Updated: Jun 19, 2018
There are a myriad of terms that health practitioners use to describe medicine that integrates the body-mind-spirit-environment approach, and I appreciate that it can be quite confusing for patients, clients and even health practitioners themselves!
I choose to call myself an Integrative Medicine practitioner because I feel the key term here is INTEGRATE. If we refer to the Oxford dictionary definition, to integrate is to;
to combine (one thing) with another to form a whole
to bring (people or groups with particular characteristics or needs) into equal participation in or membership of a social group or institution
As an Integrative GP obstetrician, I explain to the client or patient that we are on the same team, and that my role is to work together with them to optimise their health. I make it clear that we both have responsibilities to take action if we truly want to achieve the outcomes that we identify as a partnership.
It is important to note that Integrative Medicine is an evidence-based approach, that combines conventional and complimentary therapies to provide safe and effective health care in a person-centred way. In Australia, the National Institute for Integrative Medicine is leading the way with Integrative Medicine research, education and clinical practice, with the aim of raising awareness and implementation of Integrative Medicine. When I meet a patient for the first time, I start by taking a thorough history, including:
why you have come to see me
the symptoms or concerns you have come to explore and the impact they are having on your life
your previous medical history
any treatments you are currently taking or have tried in the past
your social history ( including home life, occupation, relationships, family and social supports, alcohol and drug use, financial situation, any current stressors)
your family medical history
what brings you meaning and purpose in your life.
I like to map out your 'story' on a timeline, as this helps me identify any factors or triggers that may be contributing to your current symptoms. I often find patients haven’t yet made a connection between life events that have occurred around the time that their health issue began and their current symptoms. This process of mapping out a patient’s healthy journey can be the key to identifying the “root cause” for your symptoms, and consequently making a plan for resolving these.
I have found the resources produced by the Institute for Functional Medicine very helpful for using with my patients. In particular, I like the Function Medicine Tree that illustrates that the key “root causes” for illness are related to our environment and lifestyle, that is, epigenetic factors. These include;
Sleep and relaxation
Exercise and movement
Nutrition and hydration
Stress and resilience
Relationships and social networks
Previous and current trauma
The microbiome and other microorganisms
Environmental toxins and pollutants
Of course, our genetics and family history do play a role in our health, but they are not an absolute. The emerging field of epigenetics is revealing that we have the potential to effect how our genes are expressed through modifying environmental and lifestyle factors, which is both exciting and empowering.
Your management plan
Once the contributing factors to your symptoms have been identified, an Integrative GP will work together with you to create a management plan that addresses each of these factors, while taking into account your individual circumstances and needs. Often the GP will request laboratory investigations to assist with identifying any imbalances that need to be addressed. Some of this testing can be expensive, and I encourage you to make it clear to your doctor what your budget is for investigations so you don’t commit to testing that you cannot afford.
In Australia, a competent Integrative doctor should be able to start with testing that is covered by the Medicare Benefits Scheme and some basic lifestyle interventions that won’t cost the Earth, so please don’t feel that cost is a reason not to consult with an Integrative doctor. If you’ve had testing performed by another doctor previously, it is useful to bring along these results to you appointment to avoid duplicating tests that have already been performed, or to provide a comparison.
In terms of management, be prepared to start making some lifestyle changes, including diet, exercise, sleep and stress management. These really are the pillars of health, and a willingness to reflect on how your current lifestyle is impacting on your health is key to resolving the root cause of your symptoms and preventing chronic disease.
Many Integrative doctors, including myself, will suggest other practitioners that you could work with in order to achieve your health goals. I commonly refer to naturopaths, physiotherapists, chiropractors, kinesiologists, psychologists, osteopaths, health coaches and other healers to support my clients to address the various aspects of their health issues in a collaborative way. If the client has already established a working relationship one or more holistic health practitioners, I request the client’s consent to send the practitioner(s) a letter introducing myself and inviting them to collaborate with me as part of the client’s health care team. Here is a link to the Holistic Health Practitioner Network page, which is a repository of practitioners serving the South West of Western Australia, where I work www.hhpn.com.au.
In summary, if you feel that you are ready to take a deeper look at the underlying causes for your current health issues, and you are willing to work together with a practitioner who understands that optimising health takes more than prescribing a medication or referring for surgery, then I recommend choosing an Integrative doctor.
To receive a copy of my Intake Form and more details about the health information collected prior to you first consultation, call Broadwater Medical Centre on (08) 9751 0400.