Welcome to Fullscript’s integrative medicine education series. Discover how integrative medicine improves patient outcomes and why it’s being adopted by forward-thinking practitioners across North America.
If you’ve ever gone to a chiropractor for an adjustment or purchased a dietary supplement you read about in an article or online, you’re among the 38% of adults in the U.S. who are turning to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to heal what ails them. (2)
There are many reasons for this increased interest. Studies have found that people often embrace alternative practices and practitioners because they are looking for more personalized care from a provider who takes the time to listen and learn about the patient as a person instead of simply a set of symptoms. They may also be looking for an alternative that allows them to share in the decision-making process regarding their treatment. (9) Other people opt for integrative medicine and CAM therapies that better align with their personal values and belief systems. (3)
Integrative medicine is becoming so well accepted that many hospitals have started to combine CAM therapies with conventional care. (7) This practice has been shown to reduce post-hospitalization mortality and lessen pain. It’s also been found to decrease hospital costs by approximately 4%. (6) If you’re interested in exploring CAM, consulting an integrative medicine doctor may be a good first step. Continue reading to learn more about how to find an integrative medicine doctor near you.
What is an integrative medicine doctor?
Integrative medicine doctors use therapies derived from both alternative and conventional medicine to best treat their patients. According to the American Board of Physician Specialties, integrative medicine is defined as “the practice of medicine that reaffirms the importance of the relationship between practitioner and patient, focuses on the whole person, is informed by evidence, and makes use of all appropriate therapeutic approaches, healthcare professionals, and disciplines to achieve optimal health and healing.” (8)
As such, integrative medicine doctors may use traditional or non-conventional therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic care, dietary supplements, homeopathy, or massage therapy to achieve healing. (5) And this may have you wondering, are integrative medicine doctors real doctors? Rest assured, they are. In fact, board certified integrative medicine doctors are licensed medical doctors (MDs) or osteopathic doctors (ODs) who have completed additional training in integrative medicine. (4)
Because integrative medicine doctors rely on a broader scope of healing modalities than their conventional counterparts, they can often get to the root of the problem. What’s more, because they care for the whole person and involve them in their own care, integrative medicine also provides patients with a greater sense of empowerment over their health and well-being.
Integrative vs. functional medicine practitioners
The term integrative medicine doctor and functional medicine doctor are often used interchangeably. That’s not surprising since they both employ CAM therapies and take a more individualized, patient-centered approach to treatment. Yet, while these two specialties share many similarities, integrative medicine doctors have the ability to blend conventional diagnostics and therapies with complementary and alternative therapies for optimal healing. Functional medicine practitioners, on the other hand, are more prone to focus on alternative modalities and functional testing to uncover and treat the underlying cause of a patient’s health problems, as well as disease prevention. (5)
How to find an integrative medicine doctor near you
If you’re interested in giving integrative medicine a try, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine suggests checking with your current health care practitioner, your insurance provider, and/or your state’s medical licensing boards for names of integrative medical doctors in your area. (1) You can also check with the following organizations:
- The American College for Advancement in Medicine: This nonprofit organization maintains a database of integrative doctors across the United States who are members of the organization.
- The Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine, University of Arizona: This comprehensive database provides contact information for healthcare practitioners in both the United States and Canada who have completed a fellowship in integrative medicine. They also maintain a list of certified integrative health and wellness coaches.
How do I choose an integrative medicine doctor?
Once you have the name(s) of an integrative medicine doctor, it’s a good idea to do a bit of homework. After all, obtaining information about any potential practitioner—including their education, training, licensing, and certifications—can ensure the provider you are considering holds the appropriate credentials required in your area. (1)
It’s also important to meet with a possible practitioner prior to treatment to make sure that they are right for you. Here are four key questions to ask during your initial interview:
- Ask if the practitioner is willing to work with your conventional healthcare providers.
This can help you build a coordinated team of healthcare providers all working toward the same end.
- Tell them about all of your health conditions and ask if they are experienced in working with other patients with similar conditions.
It’s important to choose an integrative medicine doctor familiar with your specific health needs, especially since some types of CAM treatments may not be appropriate for you.
- Inquire about the CAM modalities and testing protocols used by the practitioner.
It’s also important to tell a prospective integrative medicine doctor about any CAM approaches you’ve tried and about any other practitioners you may currently be seeing.
- Ask if the practitioner accepts your health insurance.
Did you know? Because integrative medicine doctors are known for creating a partnership with their patients, it’s wise to pay attention to how well you connect with them on a personal level during your initial meeting. Creating a bond with your practitioner can enhance the experience and may improve your care. (6)
The bottom line
Integrative medicine has made significant inroads among both patients and hospitals. Because integrative medicine doctors take a personal approach and treat the whole patient, and not just their symptoms, patients often feel heard by their physician and empowered to take an active role in their own healthcare.
For the best outcome when seeking out an integrative medical doctor, it’s important to research their background and qualifications, and ask if they are familiar with your particular illness or health concerns. Equally important, however, is to make sure you feel a rapport with the doctor. This can foster trust and enhance your healing experience.
- 6 things to know when selecting a complementary health practitioner. (2022). National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/tips/things-to-know-when-selecting-a-complementary-health-practitioner
- According to a New Government Survey, 38 Percent of Adults and 12 Percent of Children Use Complementary and Alternative Medicine. (2008). National Institutes of Health. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/according-new-government-survey-38-percent-adults-12-percent-children-use-complementary-alternative-medicine
- Astin JA. (1998). Why patients use alternative medicine: results of a national study. JAMA, 279(19):1548-1553.
- Characteristics of healthcare professions: Differentiating between ND, integrative MD, DO, and DC providers. Institute for Natural Medicine. https://naturemed.org/faq/characteristics-of-healthcare-professions-differentiating-between-nd-integrative-md-do-and-dc-providers/
- Complementary, alternative, or integrative health: What’s in a name? (2022). National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/complementary-alternative-or-integrative-health-whats-in-a-name
- Gannotta, R., Malik, S., Chan, A.Y., Urgun, K., Hsu, F., & Vadera, S. (2018). Integrative medicine as a vital component of patient care. Cureus, 10(8), e3098.
- Halm, M.A. & Katseres J. (2015). CE: Integrative Care: The evolving landscape in American hospitals. American Journal of Nursing, 115(10):22-29.
- Integrative medicine defined. (2022). American Board of Physician Specialties. https://www.abpsus.org/integrative-medicine-defined/
- McCaffrey, A.M., Pugh, G.F., & O’Connor, B.B. (2007). Understanding patient preference for integrative medical care: results from patient focus groups. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 22(11), 1500–1505.