Have you ever felt like your doctor is only focusing on one part of your health and not seeing the whole picture? Maybe you have complex symptoms that don’t seem connected, or a chronic condition that conventional medicine alone can’t seem to resolve. If so, you’re not alone. Many people today are looking for a more comprehensive, personalized approach to healthcare – one that addresses the mind, body, and spirit. This is where integrative medicine comes in.
Integrative medical consultants take a holistic view of health and wellness. They blend the best of conventional western practices with evidence-based complementary therapies like acupuncture, herbal supplements, meditation, and nutrition counseling. The goal is to treat you as a whole person, get to the root causes of your issues, and create an integrated care plan tailored to your unique needs. Read on to learn more about this innovative specialty and how an integrative medical consultant can help you achieve optimal well-being.
What is Integrative Medicine?
Integrative medicine is a patient-centered approach that focuses on your complete physical, mental, emotional, social, spiritual, and environmental wellness. It goes beyond just treating individual symptoms to look at how all the aspects of your lifestyle and health history fit together.
Some key principles of integrative medicine include:
- Treating the whole person – Your care addresses body, mind and spirit. It looks at how your environment, relationships, nutrition, attitude, exercise regimen, and other factors impact your health.
- Making the patient a partner – You and your integrative provider work together to set health goals and make customized treatment plans. You’re actively involved in your healing.
- Focusing on overall wellness – The emphasis is on preventing disease and optimizing health, not just treating illness. Lifestyle changes and natural therapies are used whenever possible.
- Considering factors that promote health – Your integrative provider looks at sleep, stress management, exercise, nutrition, environment, relationships, and other aspects that affect wellbeing.
- Blending conventional and complementary approaches – You get the best of traditional Western medicine plus evidence-based holistic therapies like acupuncture, supplements, yoga, massage, and mind-body practices.
The integrative approach views health problems as involving the whole system – body, mind, spirit, and community. That’s why integrative medical consultants take the time to understand all aspects of your lifestyle, health history, genetics, belief systems and goals. This “whole person” philosophy allows them to get to the root causes and develop personalized treatment plans using both conventional and complementary modalities.
Benefits of Seeing an Integrative Medical Consultant
There are many potential benefits to being evaluated by an integrative medical consultant versus other types of providers:
- A holistic understanding of your health – They’ll assess genetic, lifestyle, environmental, and other factors that could be contributing to your symptoms or disease risk. This big picture view can reveal underlying issues that specialized doctors might miss.
- More effective chronic disease management – Integrative medicine has been shown to successfully treat many chronic conditions like diabetes, autoimmune disorders, digestive diseases, fibromyalgia, headaches, and more.
- Support for complex, hard-to-diagnose conditions – Seeing multiple specialists for different symptoms can be frustrating. An integrative provider can connect the dots among all your issues and get to the root causes.
- Reduced reliance on medication – Evidence shows integrative medicine lowers medication use without worsening outcomes. Side effects can be avoided.
- A focus on disease prevention and wellness – Your care emphasizes sustainable lifestyle changes tailored to your needs – not just medication to mask symptoms.
- Treatment of pain, fatigue, stress and emotional issues – You’ll get holistic therapies to address symptoms and causes, not just prescription drugs.
- Personalized nutrition and lifestyle counseling – Your diet, exercise regimen, sleep hygiene, and other habits will be optimized to your unique needs.
- Mental, emotional and spiritual support – Integrative providers treat issues like anxiety, depression and lack of life purpose that impact health.
- Specialization for men’s, women’s, pediatric, geriatric, and oncology care – You’ll get integrative therapies catered to your age, gender, and health status.
No matter your symptoms, diagnosis, age, or gender, integrative medical consultants can complement your care from other providers. Their in-depth, whole person evaluations and customized treatment plans get you the best results.
What to Expect at the First Appointment
Your initial consultation with an integrative medical consultant will be more comprehensive than a typical doctor’s appointment. Plan for it to last 60-90 minutes. Here’s an overview of what it may entail:
- A health history – You’ll answer in-depth questions about your family history, past medical issues, symptoms, medications, supplements, diet, lifestyle, environmental exposures, stress levels and other factors.
- A review of your records, labs, imaging and medications – Your consultant will examine your medical chart, test results, prescription drug/supplement list and more. They’ll look for any clues about what could be causing your symptoms.
- A physical exam tailored to your needs – This may include areas not addressed by your primary doctor or specialists.
- Tests or imaging if appropriate – Some additional diagnostic evaluations may be ordered to get more data. These are totally personalized to you.
- Lifestyle, nutrition and environment assessments – Your sleep, exercise, eating patterns, toxin exposures, relationships and more are evaluated.
- Creation of a personalized integrative care plan – Based on their whole person evaluation, your consultant will make recommendations like dietary changes, specific supplements, mind-body practices, needed specialist referrals and follow up testing/imaging.
- A follow-up visit schedule – You’ll book appointments to track your progress on the new integrative care plan. Most patients are seen every 4-12 weeks initially.
In your first integrative consultation, all aspects of your health are explored. Together you and your consultant paint a 360-degree picture of what could be causing your issues and outline steps to resolve them. It’s a truly personalized and thorough approach.
Integrative Modalities and Services
There are countless therapies and services an integrative medical consultant may use to treat you as a whole patient:
- Lifestyle medicine – This involves personalized counseling on nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress management and other lifestyle factors affecting your health. Plant-based, anti-inflammatory, low glycemic diets are often recommended.
- Health coaching – You may work with a coach on goal setting, motivation, mindfulness, and developing healthy habits around nutrition, movement, sleep, stress, social connection, and more.
- Acupuncture – Fine needles are inserted into specific body points to rebalance the flow of energy and treat a wide range of symptoms. It is very safe when done by a licensed acupuncturist.
- Supplements and herbs – Natural formulations can serve as anti-inflammatories, antioxidants, sleep aids, mood boosters, digestive aids, and more. They’re prescribed based on your needs.
- Mind-body practices – Things like clinical hypnosis, biofeedback, yoga, tai chi, meditation, massage, guided imagery, and breathing exercises are used to reduce stress and pain, improve sleep, and create mental calm.
- Functional medicine – This uses specialized lab tests and assessments to understand genetic, environmental, lifestyle and metabolic factors contributing to poor health. It reveals root causes.
- Chiropractic – Gentle manipulation of joints and muscles brings alignment and improved function. It targets back and neck pain, sciatica, migraines and more.
- Nature therapy – Spending time outdoors has well-researched mental and physical health benefits. Your consultant may recommend forest bathing, earthing, hiking, gardening and other nature activities.
- Culinary medicine – Cooking classes and meal planning guidance can help you adopt a therapeutic diet right for your needs without feeling deprived. Anti-inflammatory, low glycemic, elimination diets and more may be covered.
- Specialty referrals – You may be referred to nutritionists, naturopaths, physical therapists, psychiatrists, pain specialists, obstetricians and other providers to fully support your care.
Your integrative consultant has a diverse toolkit. They select modalities and services tailored to your health goals, treatment preferences, and clinical picture. The options are limitless when providers have both conventional medicine and holistic therapy expertise.
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Finding an Integrative Medical Consultant
If you’re interested in exploring integrative medicine, make sure you choose your consultant carefully. Here’s what to look for:
- Board certification – They should be board certified in integrative medicine by the American Board of Physician Specialties (ABPS). This ensures rigorous training.
- Medical degree – Legitimate integrative medical consultants will have an MD or DO degree from an accredited medical school in addition to extra training in integrative therapies.
- Experience – Look for 5+ years of practice and hundreds of integrative patients treated. This depth of knowledge is ideal.
- Treatment philosophy – Ensure it aligns with your desire for an emphasis on natural options, diet/lifestyle changes, and complementary modalities alongside conventional care.
- Good reviews – Check online ratings and reviews from other patients. This gives insight into quality of care.
- Specialization – Seek consultants with expertise in your condition and age group, such as women’s health, chronic pain, autoimmune disease, pediatrics, oncology support, etc.
Your primary care doctor or specialists may be able to refer you to integrative medical consultants they trust. There are also national databases online where you can search for practitioners in your area.
Collaborating with Your Healthcare Team
Integrative medical consultants don’t replace your primary care physician or disease specialists; they complement them. Here are tips for seamless collaboration:
- Share medical records – Have your integrative provider’s notes and treatment plans accessible to your other doctors. This prevents duplicate or conflicting therapies.
- Communicate regularly – Give your providers permission to confer with each other. This ensures the integrative therapies prescribed align with your other care.
- Track progress – Keep all your providers informed of how you’re responding to any new treatments. They can adjust things as needed.
- Be an advocate – Speak up if you get the sense your providers aren’t cooperating fully. They should value working as a team.
- Document medication changes – If your integrative provider adjusts your prescriptions or supplements, notify your other doctors to avoid problems.
When all your caregivers communicate freely, you get the benefit of their combined wisdom. No single practitioner has the full picture of your health. An integrative medical consultant deals with the big picture while also partnering closely with specialists.
Seeing an integrative medical consultant for a whole person evaluation provides invaluable benefits. They take the time to understand your complete mind-body-spirit health picture. Highly personalized care plans are created that combine appropriate conventional treatments with holistic modalities suited to you as an individual. Integrative providers partner closely with your other doctors to help you achieve wellness goals. If you have complex symptoms or want a natural preventive approach, exploring this specialty is worthwhile. You’ll get the best of all worlds and finally feel fully supported on your health journey.