My heart goes out to all people who are struggling with daily symptoms, physical complaints, illnesses, which if they’ve been going on for longer than 3 months, I’d call chronic. Sometimes people find themselves in the hospital with an acute exacerbation of a chronic illness, or they find themselves in the hospital being diagnosed with a serious illness even though they had no prior complaints. It happens every day, and it usually is very scary and anxiety-provoking.
People in this situation want to “get better,” and this is the fundamental intention behind whatever treatment plan their doctors or the medical system provide. Doctors usually provide statistics from clinical trials to substantiate a decision to provide a treatment, but CANNOT promise that a patient will “get better.” Again, even the experience with doctors is usually confusing, anxiety-provoking, and scary.
Typically the treatment plan involves surgery, drugs, radiotherapy (for cancer), devices (such as pacemakers, prosthetics, etc.), or extensive physical rehabilitation programs. These treatments each are developed by multi-million dollar industries, and are substantiated by clinical trials that occur in very controlled settings. Doctors essentially match a treatment to a disease, and facilitate the execution of the treatment.
Yet the fact of the matter is that with very few exceptions, most patients do not “get better.” Even if one illness (such as cancer) improves, another one (such as heart failure, pneumonia, etc) manifests soon thereafter. Too many people suffer this way- one thing after another. The reason this happens is because simply matching a technology-driven treatment to a disease isn’t enough to address the complicated and nuanced aspects of human physiology and pathology.
Integrative Medicine purports to be the solution to this basic flaw of the medical system. It is characteristic of many specialists in integrative and functional medicine such as myself (I am an integrative internal medicine specialist) to focus on each person in a unique context. When we complete a diagnostic workup and we understand the causes of symptoms, then our next step is to say,
“Now let’s talk about reversing or resolving the underlying causes of the symptoms.”
It is because I can have this conversation, engage this journey, with my patients that I love my work as a doctor so much. I see other doctors watch their patients slowly deteriorate over time, while my patients’ health visibly improves; they not only get to the point having no symptoms, but also achieve their health goals. The culture we create with our patients isn’t about aggressive treatments to destroy illness; rather, it is about intelligently and with a nuanced sensibility optimizing physiology, leading to improved organ function, eradication of inflammation, improved metabolism, and improved vitality and lifestyle. As a side effect of improving and optimizing the immune system, illness/symptoms go away, and wellness persists.