What is an Integrative Doctor?
Integrative doctors are all medical school trained General Practitioners. We have chosen to extend our study in order to integrate all the body systems and be more agile in uncovering the reasons for symptoms. In medical school we learn about the cardiovascular system, for example, quite separately from the gastrointestinal system or neurological system and in general practice problems are solved using this approach. This is magnified in the specialist arena. An integrative doctor has a different approach where, for example, a problem in the gut or diet might be affecting the skin or causing respiratory symptoms. Complex problems such as chronic fatigue can only be managed in this holistic way.
Integrative doctors focus on nutrition and optimising trace elements because nutrition is the foundation of our health. General practitioners may look at a ‘reference range’ of magnesium, for example, and suggest that as long as the patient is ‘in the range’, there is no issue. Integrative doctors look at the OPTIMAL level for individuals.
There is a good reason why conventional doctors do not look at optimisation and prevention in the same way as integrative G.Ps. The system that pays most G.P consultations, Medicare, is extremely prescriptive about what should be treated and how. In addition, because Medicare rewards doctors financially for short consultations, there can be disincentive to explore more deeply. In essence, our medical system is a disease management system, not a health system.
Another key difference between mainstream General Practice and Integrative Medicine is that the patient is a PARTNER in recovery with an Integrative approach, through diet, improved circadian rhythm, reducing environmental toxicants, exercise and so on. Whilst I would love to ‘cure’ a patient with my treatment, all my patients have to put a deal of effort into recovery. Many patients who present to me express frustration with their previous passive role in recovery, where all the emphasis was placed on prescription medication.
Hormone balance is another area of difference between integrative doctors and regular G.P.s . We look at optimising the hormonal balance rather than being content with ‘reference ranges.’ The outcome is often that patients feel better.
Integrative doctors use prescription medicine, but if there is an alternative, natural option, it is preferred. The reason is that we are acutely aware that all drugs have SIDE EFFECTS – some immediate, some long term – and we understand that the balance of the body will be upset by drugs. If we use prescription medication we will always offer an agent to balance the negative effects – for example, we would prescribe a particular probiotic alongside an antibiotic (and perhaps with a prebiotic). In this way we try to avoid the all too common scenario where a drug is prescribed to reduce side effects from a previously prescribed drug, and so on.
Being an Integrative doctor is more challenging because we can explore more deeply into symptoms and diseases, but I am grateful not to be an ‘ordinary’ G.P.!