Top 5 Challenges of Integrative Healthcare
I recently returned from a training in Florida for Nutritional Response Testing. This was a great tool I learned to incorporate in my practice toolbox. I found myself in a room full of chiropractors, health coaches, herbalists and nutritionist. I happened to be the only medical practitioner at the training this particular weekend. As a nurse who happens to be married to an open minded physician, I found myself defending medical practitioners and attempting to shed light on the challenges and obstacles as well as desire to bridge the gap to find middle ground between the “them vs. us” mindset. I know many MDs/PAs/NPs/RNs who seek knowledge and alternative solutions to healthcare. Many medical professionals I know agree that American’s are taking too many drugs and need more prevention, lifestyle management and alternative solutions to manage illness and find the root cause. We all want to see better health with less invasive, complicated treatment. Most can agree on the what, just not always on the how. So here are, what I see as, the challenges to Integrative Healthcare.
1). Cooperation and Acceptance
Like politics, medicine and healthcare seem to have two outspoken extremes- Natural/ Holistic Health model and Allopathic/ Medical Health model. An integration of the two can lead to maximal health, one for prevention and chronic management and one for acute/ crisis management. Some medical practitioners feel natural and holistic medicine is too subjective, vague and lacks tangibility, while some naturopathic and holistic practitioners feel medicine is too symptom management, pill pushing and aggressive with treatments. As in most things, the solutions for most lie in the middle of the extremes- with an integration of the two. It works best if both sides, as well as the patient, can be cooperative, collaborative and accepting of choices and viewpoints. Most of us have the same goal and intention- to bring patients and self to better, sustainable health.
2) Time and Patience
Many practitioners will say they are challenged with finding time to go in depth with patients to find root cause of illness, or to learn new techniques. Investigations and discovery takes time and healthcare practitioners are given 10-15 minutes with a patient in this business minded, paperwork loaded healthcare system. Many patients and practitioners will state that patients want to see results quickly and want ‘solutions’ that are quick and immediate. We no longer wait colds out, or rest an injured joint. We don’t have time to be sick! Well, uncovering issues at the heart of the problem and treatment or management can take time to gently bring the body back to balance and allow it to recover and heal. We are a society of instant gratification. I know many people who just want a pill because they are not willing to put time or effort into making lifestyle changes, or wait out the healing process using nutrition or energy work. The holistic approach can take time, but can often have lasting results. The body needs time to heal and get back into balance. Anything extreme can throw the body into chaos or bring it to another extreme.
3) Collaboration and Compliance
So many times, people come in to see me, or even my husband with complaints and desire to see change, but they do not always do their part. You have to work as a team, be open, honest and realistic in expectation and goals as well as responsible for your part or your work. Whether this means filling out a food journal regularly, resting a joint, exercising, wearing a brace or taking a medication or supplement religiously, we all know our ‘job’ or responsibility. In addition, if you are going to several practitioners for treatment, just like a team, it is important that all players know who they are playing with and what the plays are doing. Practitioners need to be able to communicate, collaborate and work together to help a patient find optimal health.
It took a long time for me to share my gifts, my ideas and approaches or beliefs with some of my medically minded colleagues. Many old school medical practitioners find alternative and holistic treatment “woo woo” or call Naturopaths and Chiropractors “voo doo” docs. On the flip side, many Holistic practitioners and DC’s refer to medical practitioners as pill pushers, “hackers” or in the pockets of BIG Pharm. In my experience, many people follow what they know and do the best they can with the tools they have. I grew up in a medical family, so I followed a medical path. My friend grew up going to chiropractors vs. MD’s and she has followed the holistic path. Case in point, my path lead me to the middle ground between medicine and holistic healing. I hope to help others find this middle ground through open mindedness and understanding of how energy medicine and nutrition work. Again, our intentions and purpose is in alignment, but our methods may differ.
5) Knowledge and Balance
As practitioners, we all have a responsibility to learn, grow and seek tools for our toolbox in healthcare that promotes health while doing the least amount of harm. Many physicians turn to the Institute for Functional Medicine to learn how to use food, nutraceuticals and lifestyle changes to improve health. Studies have shown that many Family Practice Doctor’s are interested in learning more about CAM and Nutrition to help patients. Some learn acupuncture, energy medicine or even herbal medicine. Some MDs are pioneers of Integrative medicine like Dr. Andrew Weil, Dr. Annmarie Chiasson and Dr. Lisa Rankin. The key is understanding the different options out there, seeing what resonates with the individual and then trying to incorporate these modalities into care. The holistic health community could gain more knowledge about what alternative practices are taught and used by medical practitioners, as well as when allopathic medicine is needed or can benefit patients on a holistic tract. Most important, I believe, is that we find a balance between one extreme of pill popping of the chemical kind and the other pill popping of the supplement or food based isolate (bone broth, collagen protein, etc.). Any type of extreme can bring the body further out of balance, even too aggressive a treatment. Some practitioners throw too many things at once or too many labored steps at a person that can create stress or affect compliance. Such intensity and rigidity can be overwhelming to the patient. We need patience and understanding of needs and real life. Focus on balance in treatments, life and practice.
Moving forward, I would love to see more dialogue, more research in integrative and alternative medicine as well as more integrative healing and nutrition training in nursing, chiropractic and medical schools. Many of practitioners of healthcare believe there to be a big lifestyle component to health and wellness. More and more medical practitioners, according to a John’s Hopkins study, want more information and training on nutrition as preventative medicine, especially with obesity. If we can all work together towards the common goal of better health for self and patients, think about how far we can go! Knowledge is power… so let’s share and expand while taking responsibility for our part in the problem as well as the solution.