#1 - What is integrative medicine?
A lot of people think that integrative medicine is simply a fancy, more politically-correct term for alternative medicine, but that’s only a piece of the truth.
Integrative medicine is a system of medicine that seeks to use the best treatments for any given ailment. In this way it is an inclusive approach to health and healing founded on the belief that the best medicine is the one that works. It does not discriminate against treatments or techniques based on their origins. This begs the question, however, how do we know what is the best treatment option.
For one, doctors that practice integrative medicine typically avoid treatment options that have a high potential to make things worse especially when there are other options that don't have this potential. All doctors are trained to "first do no harm." However many times the dogmatic nature of Western Medicine leaves these doctors few options for treatment.
For instance Western Medicine doctors are trained to use the "standard of care." Yet for a treatment to reach the level of evidence needed for "standard of care" takes many years and lots of funding. The good part about the standard of care model is it gives us a framework for treatment. The bad part is it often misses a fundamental tenant of being a doctor. That tenant being to solve people's health care problems. For instance there are many treatment options for all kinds of ailments that work equal or better than "standard of care" yet have less potential for harm. So as an integrative medicine doctor, I say lets use the Western Medicine model for tracking and treating the disease process we see occurring. Yet when it comes to treatment lets explore the use of herbal supplement or nutrients to treat rather than just the standard of care.
Knowing What to Use
Being open to alternative treatment options is just one aspect of practicing integrative medicine. You also have to know what is likely to work based on understanding human biochemistry in combination with the evidence for that treatment option. It's great to be open to the possibility of something other than western medicine to work, but we also have to guide patients to take the things that are likely to help and do good.
Another way to look at this is that there are a number of available therapies that may not be in a patient’s best interest or may interfere with another therapy he or she is undergoing. To make those determinations we have to make a lot of distinctions, which is why it’s critical to work with an experienced integrative medicine practitioner who can guide you.
Just as integrative medicine integrates all aspects of your care - including conventional medicine and more alternative therapies (such as acupuncture, nutrition, etc.), it also integrates all aspects of yourself (your mind, body, spirit), and focuses on sustainable improvement over time. To learn more and get slightly different perspective on "What is Integrative Medicine" click on the link.
#2 - Will my insurance cover treatments from an integrative medicine doctor?
Sorry to tell you, the answer to this question is "it depends". It depends mainly on the state where you live, the treatment you are wanting to receive, and the insurance plan you have. Many of our patients and doctor find the insruance complexity and ambiguity quite frustrating. The trend is for insurances (and government law) to incorporate more integrative medicine therapies that were once excluded from coverage.
If you see an integrative medicine doctor that has a license to practice medicine (more on this below), chances are there will be insurance coverage for laboratory testing and medications used. Here in Arizona laboratory and prescription medications are generally covered. Still, insurance policies may insist that the integrative/ alternative medications and labs are not “medically necessary” even with proper coding.
Office visits are less likely to be covered but it does depend on the state. Washington state, for instance, has equal coverage for naturopathic physicians as conventional medical doctors. In cases where your insurance does not cover health saving accounts can help bridge the gap and should be covered.
#3 - Alternative medicine seems unregulated. How do I know who is competent and who is not?
Yes, there are some people who practice alternative (and integrative) medicine with little education and no license. When a medial provider is licensed to practice medicine, it means the state recognizes them as being competent to care for the public. Here is a link to the Arizona Naturopathic Medical Board. The medical board has certain requirements that have to be met which includes passing board examination. This ensures the provider is not going to cause more harm and is generally competent to practice medicine. However, licensing alone doesn't ensure that the provider is going to be good for your needs.
In the same way that there are both good and bad practitioners in conventional medicine. There are good and bad practitioners of integrative and alternative medicine (even if they are license). That is why it is so important to educate yourself and understand the treatment plan you are getting. You may want to take this approach before you even start with an integrative medicine doctor. Call the office and ask questions about potential treatment options or see if they offer a free consult with the doctor. Our clinic offers a free consultation for this reason in particular.
Don’t hesitate to apply the same inquisitive rigor to the advise you find on the internet too. It is even harder to know who to trust online. One piece of advise is to pay attention to where the article or information links to and how helpful the information is they provide. one last peice of advise that we always encourage is to take charge of your health as much as you can. No-one else is going to care as much as you do. The more you know the better off you will be. So ask the hard questions and don't be swayed by blind faith or strong marketing.
If you're considering integrative medicine and would like to talk about
potential treatment options, we invite you to schedule a
free consultation - entirely obligation free!