Five Things to Consider Science is Ahead of Medicine Science is a flexible lens from which to observe all phenomena and create understanding. Something that works medically (reduces symptoms and pathology) is scientific regardless of its acceptance. For scientific validation to occur (in this country) there must be funding to support research which means it needs to be able to make money. Even with all the obstacles to greater knowledge, what we know scientifically about the body is much more advanced than the information that passes down slowly through the filter of non-medical lawyers, granted access by the money grabbing insurance and drug companies, to trickle into the medical schools, and end up available to your family M.D.
Defensive Medicine As a result, the average M.D. is behind in research and unable to answer questions from their patients regarding modern trends. Worse than that, they are under extreme pressure to manage patient liabilities while not deviating from standard of care (standard of care is what the board has decided they are able to say and do based on profit motives not patient needs). As a result, most visits are 5-10 minutes and the patients are no longer being properly examined. Causative factors are not being investigated. Tests are ordered to cover their butts legally instead of being ordered to better understand the patient's unique health needs. Drugs are being prescribed because they are within the standard of care even though they are harmful. Practices, such as nutritional or lifestyle recommendations, that are scientifically valid (observed to have been effective) are not allowed as they are not included in the standard of care. Doctors that deviate from the standard of care risk lawsuit and loss of license even if the patient outcomes are positive. People Want a Different Approach People just want to get better. Patients that have chronic conditions are frustrated with the drugs they are given to manage the symptoms while they still have the problem. After voicing these needs to their doctors they are shocked and even more frustrated when the doctor responds with a prescription of antidepressants. This common dilemma is fueling a massive interest in holistic and natural care systems.
The Problem is Holistic Medicine is a Mixed Bag Many practitioners have strong medical backgrounds. They are determined to provide care aimed at the root cause instead of chasing symptoms but their treatment strategies come from a well structured theoretical and clinical framework. Others may have only taken weekend courses and may not add any benefit or may cause harm. Integrative, Holistic, and Complementary Alternative Medicine
Five Strategies to Help you Pick a Holistic Doctor
1. Separate General Health from Medical Needs
I have met many weekend warrior holistic practitioners that have little to no training but they are full of passion and have big hearts. These people can offer inspiration, lifestyle coaching, and a variety of health enhancing practices that can benefit your body and your mind. This represents a huge group and includes massage therapists that have become holistic practitioners, energy workers, nutrition enthusiasts, personal trainers, yoga instructors, etc. This category of practitioners is the greatest mixed bag but finding the right person can be life changing. If you are needing medical treatment for a chronic condition this this category may be inappropriate depending on the severity of your condition. The greater the medical need (more serious or more life disrupting) the more important it is to seek a medical professional.
2. What is Their Training? There are many different care models and the required training varies greatly. It is essential that the practitioner went through some form of training that has a standard. It's part of the weeding process that the training is intense enough and rigorous enough to have the practitioner psychologically commit to it and give it their 100%. Without this process I would seriously question their investment in being a practitioner. Nothing worthwhile comes easy. For this reason, and for the purposes of treating chronic illness, I would stick to licensed doctors. D.C.s, L.Ac.s, and N.D.s make up the largest group in this category (chiropractor, acupuncture, and naturopath respectively). Some M.D.s advertise holistic care and my hat goes off to them for attempting to toggle both worlds. However, the reality is that their license ties their hands. In order to successfully switch to a patient-centered practice they must give up their license (at least in California). This is why licensed M.D.s practicing nutrition run so many expensive tests. They need to legally justify everything which means the creativity, intuition, and innovation required for complex presentations is not allowed. I have seen M.D.s give up their license with great success and at the same time feel it is a shame that the highest educated end up with the least medical freedoms. The long term solution is a reduction in defensive medicine and an incentive to reduce drug prescriptions. This is the only way we'll see M.D.s return to their full potential.
3. Do they Refer to MDs? Although M.D.s generally lack corrective care or root cause treatment models they are still the best at ruling out life threatening illness. This is where defensive medicine works to the patient's benefit. A patient with chest pain goes to his chiropractor for an adjustment and the chiropractor believes it to be a muscle strain. The patient should still be referred to the M.D. to rule out problems involving the heart. The biggest danger of the holistic or alternative care field is if they are not trained in pathology then they may not know what symptoms are red flags. Some disease patterns are time sensitive and the patient must get help before the window of treatment opportunity closes. For this reason, I would avoid holistic doctors that are totally anti-MD or anti-drug. We all want to get patients off drugs but to ignore their value entirely is idealistic and can place the patient at increased risks.
4. Herbs are Dangerous Herbal medicines are one of the greatest tools for internal medicine. However, they are being pushed by untrained practitioners. Every few years, the FDA steps in and takes another herb off the market because of consumer injury. All herbs have specific properties and contraindications. Historically, these medicines were never taken alone in high amounts as they are commonly sold. Instead, they were carefully combined with other medicines to create a balanced formula based on a diagnosis unique to each patient. Quality issues are enormous. The only reason more damage isn't being done is because most of the retailed herbs are junk and contain little to no active ingredients. Retailers spend all their money fighting for shelf space and they include ingredients that sell regardless of efficacy and regardless of source. They are simply labelers and advertising schemes. Trained doctors are extremely careful to use herb pharmacies that identify active ingredients, contaminants, and certify consistency. As a doctor, I need to rely on my prescriptions. If I'm not getting results I cannot afford to second guess the quality of my herbs.
5. Get a Referral Ads don't tell you anything but the experiences directly from people under a doctor's care is a better gauge to make your decision. Ask around and see who is a trustworthy holistic doctor in your area. Also you can Yelp them. Reviews from patients are very revealing. Keep in mind that upset people tend to complain more often (this applies to all aspects of life). Take the complaints with a grain of salt and read between the lines; same with the positive reviews. The most valuable reviews are when a patients shares their treatment experience. Good luck!
Holistic & Integrative Medicine