Integrative / Functional Medicine

How to Make the Transition from Traditional Practice of Medicine and What are the Benefits 

Holistic. Complementary. Alternative. Traditional. Integrative medicine (although becoming more popularly coined as “Functional Medicine”, we will reference it as Integrative in this article) has many names. Not all are correct and, for that matter, not all are clearly defined. But whatever you call it, this type of medicine is more than just a trend and, as evidence of its safety and effectiveness continues to grow. Many practices are pivoting their care models to adopt its therapies, or at least integrate these modalities into their western ways.  

What is Integrative Medicine? 

Integrative medicine focuses on the whole person — body, mind, and spirit. Integrative practitioners evaluate patient relationships, environments, and social influences in their approach. Doctors learn to see the connection between the physical, emotional, and spiritual triangle that makes up each patient.  

To be clear, integrative medicine is not a replacement for conventional medicine but instead uses all available and appropriate therapies. Based on a preventative health and wellness approach instead of a reactive disease-based approach, integrative medicine often favors low-tech interventions. Acupuncture, massage therapy, meditation, animal assisted therapies, dietary supplements, and biofield therapies are all examples of integrative techniques and therapies. 

When do we use Integrative Medicine? 

Because integrative medicine takes into account the whole person, each use-case is different. You could have two individuals with the same physical symptoms and each would require a different integrative approach based upon environment, social stressors, etc. Integrative medicine is highly personalized.   

However, while each case is singular, integrative medicine helps people with cancer, chronic fatigue, chronic pain and fibromyalgia, and more to manage symptoms and improve quality of life.  

 5 Commonalities of Integrative Practice 

There are five things all integrative practices have in common: 

  • Providing a Healing-Oriented Approach to Care 

Healing is about overall wellness and vitality, not just the disease. Healing-orientation focuses on the righting physiologic balance to promote health.  

  • A Focus on Mind, Body, and Spirit 

This three-pronged focus allows practitioners to see how different symptoms are connected and look for a root cause. It also takes into consideration environment, culture, socioeconomic wellness, any factor that could affect adherence to their recommendations. By addressing obstacles to lifestyle changes and treatment adherence, there is a higher likelihood of success with the recommended therapy. 

  • Building a Therapeutic Relationship 

This relationship advises patients of their treatment options and makes them an active participant in deciding on the best plan of action. In the management of chronic diseases, you focus on meeting the patient where they are at the moment. Often you look for therapeutic management and not a cure.  

  • Personalized Medical Care 

You may think, “All care is personalized.” However, traditional medicine works on numbers and averages. If the majority of people suffering from X respond to Y treatment, then that is what you recommend. Integrative medicine looks at each case on an individual basis. Building upon the knowledge of X and Y to eventually land on Z.  

  • Using All Appropriate Therapies 

Integrative providers prescribe treatments according to scientific investigation. However, patients are not dissuaded from using certain treatments as long as the proposed remedies are proven to be safe. 

How Do I Begin the Transition from Traditional to Integrative Practice?  

In a study of more than 1100 integrative physicians, it was found that while 18% made the transition immediately after their residency, most waited more than ten years.  

If you find yourself interested in making the transition from a traditional care model to an integrative practice, it’s best to transition in phases. This is not an all or nothing approach, integrative medicine is most effectively used in conjunction with traditional medical practices.  

Often, integrative practitioners are part of a collaborative care team. If you want to learn more about integrative care, it is a good idea to first take part in collaborative care. It allows you to better understand how to use integrative care in a traditional setting and build familiarity with its therapies. 

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, the Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine, are good places to begin your planning.