Integrative medicine doctors (IM) combine conventional medicine with complementary medicine. The practice takes the whole person into account. This includes their lifestyle, medical conditions, current habits, and dietary choices.
Conventional medicine is what most of the Western world is accustomed to. It includes prescription medications, surgeries, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and more. Complementary treatments include homeopathy, naturopathy, dietary supplements, medical cannabis, breath work, and meditation.
IM providers believe combining the two methods encourages a well-rounded and balanced approach to healthcare. It offers the best of both worlds: utilizing life-saving and necessary conventional treatments while improving your quality of life and managing your conditions with complementary therapies, which often come with fewer side effects.
Complementary—or alternative—medicine is only becoming more mainstream. 55% of respondents in a 2021 report said they use at least one form of alternative medicine to manage a health condition. The same report said 72% of respondents try to avoid conventional medication when possible.
Does Complementary Medicine Actually Work?
Research shows complementary medicine may help manage symptoms of chronic medical conditions, and even combat negative side effects that might come from conventional therapies. For example, this 2020 study found medical cannabis to reduce nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy in up to a quarter of participants.
Keep in mind, reputable IM providers will never claim a complementary therapy cures disease. Rather, the focus should be on managing your symptoms and improving your quality of life. Your integrative medicine physician should work alongside existing treatments your doctor has created for you, as opposed to eliminating them.
How to Know If Integrative Medicine Doctors are Right For You
Most patients can benefit from at least one form of complementary therapy, in addition to their conventional treatment plan. There’s almost no reason why a person couldn’t seek an integrative healthcare approach.
However, the most important step is working with your current physician, especially if you’re currently undergoing conventional treatment or taking any medication. Mental health conditions, digestive conditions like ulcerative colitis, spinal cord injuries, and even “milder” conditions like eczema and psoriasis may all respond well to integrative approaches.
Getting Started With Integrative Medicine
First, decide if you want to attend appointments in person or online. Telehealth includes benefits such as saving money and accessing stronger care than you might receive locally.
Be prepared to share your medical history and current treatment plans at your first appointment. This information will be used to recommend safe, complementary therapies that work with your current care. From here, you will inform your primary care physician, and both providers will work together for your benefit.
Here are some questions to ask at your first appointment with an integrative practitioner:
- Do you have any anecdotes or evidence-based information you can share about the efficacy of integrative medicine?
- What should I keep in mind as I introduce new therapies into my routine?
- How will you work alongside my current care plan to develop the best treatment protocol for me?
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