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How Integrative Medicine Can Help You Be Healthier

This best-of-both-worlds approach to medicine blends conventional science and complementary practices.

By Sally Wadyka
Medicinal plant and pillsCraig Cutler


What Can I Expect From a Visit With an IM Doctor?

The first thing you’ll notice is how long you’re in the office—not in the waiting room reading magazines but actually meeting with your physician. "I spend an hour and a half with a new patient," says Maizes. After discussing your medical history, diet, and what medications and supplements you’re taking, an IM doctor also throws out some lifestyle-related questions. For example, Barrows asks whether patients were raised in a particular religious tradition to determine "whether they have a source of strength and inspiration they turn to in challenging times." He also discusses how connected they are to family, friends, and their community and asks about hobbies. "We place a great deal of emphasis on enhancing the quality of interaction between patient and practitioner," says Barrows. "And that in itself is therapeutic."

Depending on the type of integrative physician you’re seeing, you’ll get many of the same tests that a traditional doctor performs, including a cholesterol screening, a Pap smear, a physical exam, and blood work. The main difference is what the doctor "prescribes" for a chronic condition or for maintaining health. "We spend a lot of time trying to figure out the underlying causes," says Tanya Edwards, medical director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. Instead of giving a patient who comes in complaining of fatigue, insomnia, constipation, and headache prescriptions to treat each symptom, an IM doctor might recognize that the patient has signs of a magnesium deficiency and then prescribe a supplement.

The IM approach also includes ongoing support for incorporating changes into your life. Many doctors are available by e-mail. And Duke Integrative Medicine is launching professional training in integrative-health coaching. "It’s like a life coach, but for your health," says Gaudet.

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