"health care and integrative medicine"By Dr. Julie Chen

When people ask me what I do for a living, they are frequently confused as to what Integrative Medicine really is. The name ‘Integrative Medicine’ pretty much describes what this field is about. Essentially, integrative medicine physicians like to integrate both conventional and alternative medicine treatment options into the care of any given patient. I like to explain it as a method of medicine where we evaluate patients’ therapeutic options in a way where we like to utilize both conventional and alternative medicine options in such a way that we use what we can from both modalities to achieve optimal health outcome for any given patient.

In order to do this, I like to treat the person as a whole. While some believe it is necessary to segment out the body into subspecialties, most people can’t argue that at least one or more of the physicians caring for any given patient needs to put all the parts together and treat the patient as a whole as well. That’s where integrative physicians come in. Most primary care physicians also do this but most integrative physicians also take much more into account the significance of the patient’s diet, environmental triggers, social triggers, religious considerations, personal beliefs, and prior physical and emotional traumas.

In all fairness, the way present medicine is set up, there just isn’t enough time for most primary care physicians to delve into those areas of a patient’s life even if he or she wanted to. It’s nearly impossible to get all the basic medical information in fifteen-minute office visits, let alone thoroughly all the psychosocial-environmental-nutritional factors that also affect overall health. But, that’s why there’s been a growing interest for there to be a field such as integrative medicine so that other fields can help out the already over-worked caring primary care physicians who are already doing their best to care for the whole patient.

Another interesting facet of integrative medicine that is different from conventional medicine is the types of therapeutic options that are offered to the patients. I consider it my job to make sure that I guide and manage alternative therapeutic options such that my patients are safe. It is my job to guide patients to know what alternative therapies are safe and not safe based on their specific medical history when using these modalities.

Many patients also may not be able to tolerate various medications and thus supplements and herbs or vitamins and minerals may be better options. Many physicians refer to me for patient management of supplements and to help patients with their diet so that they can safely use food as medicine instead of a potentially dangerous medication that the patient cannot tolerate.

So, when people ask me what exactly is integrative medicine…my usual response is that my job is to guide patients toward living as healthily as possible using whatever means is available in all the healing modalities we are able to access. I see conventional medicine and alternative medicine not as opposing versions of health care, but rather that the combination of the two is just ‘medicine’ and in essence they are just two halves to a whole. I believe that when you separate them out into different discrete categories as if they are antagonists of each other, it just puts limits on equally important healthcare options for patients to achieve their optimal health.