“Every patient comes to a doctor primarily looking for one thing, and that is hope. Hope is central in the experience of illness and in the path to healing.”

— Jerome Groopman, MD / Harvard Medical School

“What I hope for the future of medicine is a comfort level with an expanded humanistic model, where all parts of the being—the person, the mind, the body, and the spirit—are addressed. I hope that all physicians, at every stage of training and in every specialty, reconnects with why they became a physician in the first place—which was to make a difference—and that they allow their humanity to enter into the encounter with the patient. ”

— Ellen Beck, MD / University of California, San Diego

Integrating Your Care

You can use both conventional and alternative medical care.


mediciine choices

Many people like to take care of their health by integrating their care and using the best of mainstream and complementary or alternative approaches. This is what integrative medicine does so welluse all the options available to help you achieve good health.

But you may feel that you don't have the knowledge to manage your own integrative care.  In addition, your physician may be unfamiliar with complementary approaches you might feel drawn to, or which you have heard might be beneficial for your particular health condition.  How then, do you start to integrate your healthcare in the way that suits you best?


Find the right practitioner(s) to assist in achieving your health goals.


lady at counter

The following suggestions, culled from integrative medicine experts around the country, can help you find an integrative health center or practitioner in your area.

  • Contact the medical school or hospital nearest your home, and ask if it has an integrative medicine program. If so, call program director's office, and ask for a referral to a physician or other healthcare practitioner.
  • Check the list of Bravewell Clinical Network members for a clinic in your area or visit The Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine Web site for a medical school in your area.   
  • Visit the website of the Program in Integrative Medicine (PIM) at the University of Arizona to see if a PIM graduate is practicing in your area.
  • Look for healthcare practitioners who are licensed in the particular therapy you seek, such as a licensed massaged therapist (LMT) or licensed acupuncturist (LAc). Professional associations such as The Massage Therapy Association may be able to provide you with a list of licensed practitioners in your area.
  • Ask your doctor or someone at your local hospital if they have or know of a program that offers mind-body medicine, nutrition, acupuncture, massage, and/or other complementary or alternative approaches. For example, many hospitals offer cardiac rehabilitation programs for people with heart disease that include fitness training as well as classes on nutrition and stress management.
  • Explore setting up appointments with an integrative clinic outside your immediate geographic area. Ask an administrator at the clinic if you could visit for initial consultations and tests but continue follow up from afar, with occasional trips to the clinic only as needed. In this case, perhaps local practitioners could help you with ongoing treatment and support, while the clinic coordinates your overall treatment plan and care.

Ensure that your primary provider is coordinating the care plan.


procedure list

Rather than switch your care to an integrative clinic, you may wish to continue seeing your regular physician while you add complementary and alternative therapies to augment your care, suggests Don Novey, MD, at the Advocate Medical Group Center for Complementary Medicine in Park Ridge, Illinois.  Either way, the following advice will help you coordinate your care:

  • Be sure to share information about any herbs or nutrients you are taking as well as information on any special diets or other therapies you are trying. Caution: Some herbal products can have adverse interactions with certain medications.
  • Tell your primary provider about all of the specialists you see and the self-care routines you use on a regular basis.
  • Be open with your healthcare professionals regarding all aspects of your health, including your emotional health and life stresses.
  • If you are in need of emotional support, ask for it. Many medical and integrative medicine centers offer individual and group support as well as mind-body skills training to people who are ill or coping with stress.

Good communication is a key element in achieving success.


gordon with clients

Once you have found an integrative medicine clinic or practitioner, your care will typically begin with an interview or consultation to determine your health history as well as your goals and needs.

At the Osher Center at the University of California, San Francisco, for example, an experienced integrative medicine practitioner will conduct an "Integrative Medicine Consultation."  This consultation helps the team learn about your health history, current health problems and lifestyle preferences.

Many integrative medicine practitioners use an expanded patient intake form that encompasses not only a patient's medical history and current conditions, but also lifestyle factors such as major life stresses, diet, relationships and religious affiliations.

After the health history and patient interview are completed, the integrative healthcare team may recommend standard diagnostic tests or procedures to get more information. They may also want you to undergo other tests to determine whether you have any nutritional deficiencies or imbalances. Be sure to get all the information you need about these tests, including how and when you will receive the results.

Once the results are in, your healthcare team will develop a personalized treatment plan to meet your needs.  If you find that your healthcare practitioner has devised a treatment plan that is unrealistic for you—if you travel a great deal, for instance, and will have a hard time sticking to your new diet—discuss your concerns with your team. Together, you should be able to find a way to improve your health while taking into account the realities of your life circumstances.

Once you begin your integrative care program, continue to communicate with your physician and other practitioners. Share any physical or emotional reactions you are having to these therapies or lifestyle changes. Ask questions about anything you are uncertain about or are having trouble with.  Your healthcare team may be able to make adjustments that will improve your care.

"We do all we can to partner with patients in harnessing their own healing capabilities," says Woodson Merrell, MD, Executive Director of The Continuum Center for Health & Healing in New York City.  "It is our task to insure that each patient has access to the fullest range of responsible therapeutic approaches."