Health care in the United States can often feel proscriptive, narrow and impersonal, with a focus on the doctor, not the patient. Integrative medicine aims to be different, and may be a good option for your arthritis treatment.
“Patients are at the center of integrated medicine; our goal is to partner with them to address the physical, emotional, social, environmental and spiritual factors that affect health,” says internist Adam Perlman, MD, executive director of Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, N.C. “This approach is very inclusive, and I think this is where people may have a misconception about integrative medicine. We practice and believe in Western medicine, but we also have an openness to complementary modalities that help address the whole person.”
These nontraditional therapies can include almost anything that evidence has shown to be helpful and not harmful, explains Ann Marie Chiasson, MD, assistant director of the Fellowship in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, in Tucson. That might mean lifestyle and dietary changes, massage, acupuncture, energy healing, or Ayurveda – an ancient, holistic system of healing from India.
“I consider the modalities that have the strongest evidence and do the least harm as well as what the patient is aligned with,” says Dr. Chiasson, who is board-certified in Family Practice and Hospice and Palliative medicine. “For patients with arthritis, I might start with an anti-inflammatory diet to control inflammation. Later, we might try acupuncture and massage; there is good data supporting their use for pain. The treatment plan is always tailored to the disorder.”
Integrative medicine doesn’t focus solely on treating or preventing disease; it’s concerned with optimizing health and vitality.
“Some doctors feel that if they control a patient’s blood pressure, their job is done,” Dr. Perlman says. “But controlling blood pressure doesn’t mean that a person can get down on the floor and play with a grandchild. The focus on total quality of life isn’t something integrative medicine owns, but it’s certainly a core value.”
So is the primacy of the doctor-patient relationship.
“Having a partner you can really talk to is a huge part of healing,” Dr. Chiasson says. “You start there and then try everything you can.”
Finding a Holistic Practitioner
Integrative medicine practitioners are physicians (MDs or DOs) with specialties in areas ranging from family practice to internal medicine to pediatrics. Like Drs. Perlman and Chiasson, many treat people with arthritis, although they are not rheumatologists. In a sign that integrative medicine has entered the mainstream, it recently became a board-certified subspecialty, administered by the American Board of Physician Specialties.
To locate integrative practitioners throughout the U.S., try the search function on Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine’s website. Or check the websites of these organizations:
Author: Linda Rath for the Arthritis Foundation