How to Choose an Integrative Medicine Practitioner

Let’s face it, when faced with a multitude of options, it’s easy to leave decision-making up to the close-your-eyes and point method.  This might be an OK way to decide which party to attend or which pair of pants to wear, but when it comes to choosing an integrative health care practitioner, it’s probably wiser to make an informed decision.

Integrative health care, also known as alternative or complementary medicine, used to be seen as a rejection of mainstream medicine because consumers often chose to rely solely on the alternative – like homeopathy or  Reiki.  Since then, many consumers have taken a more integrative approach by augmenting, rather than replacing, their primary health care with alternative practices.

Over time, mainstream physicians have also become more accepting of the integrative approach, even without conclusive clinical evidence, because consumers are demanding it and claiming better health outcomes. Integrative Medicine is now taught, practiced and researched in nearly half the medical schools in the country, including many leading universities such as Duke and Stanford. And, recent evidence showing the success of Integrative Medicine in clinical studies has brought it into the conversation on health care reform as well.

Because of its growing acceptance and popularity, there are many more integrative health care practitioners to choose from which can be overwhelming when it comes to deciding who to work with.

What’s the best way to go about finding an integrative health practitioner? Everyone has their own unique approach to decision-making. People also come to their need for alternative medicine from many different angles.  You may have witnessed a friend with a similar health issue recover dramatically, and want to pursue that option yourself.  Or your health care provider may be recommending an alternative approach in addition to their care.  Or you may have heard about it on TV or through other media sources.  Whichever way you come to it and no matter how you tend to make decisions, here are some basic guidelines to help in your process.

1. It’s important (as always) to have a goal.  In other words, don’t do it just because everyone else is doing it or don’t follow someone else’s protocol.  Know for yourself what your issue is, why you want to pursue an alternative therapy and what your expectations and boundaries are.

2. Do a little research.  Look into this practice and find out what it is and what types of issues it’s best suited for.

3. Get a referral if you can. It may come through a friend who has worked with someone who was helpful.  Or ask your primary health care provider for a referral.   A hospital or medical school near you may have a listing of local practitioners either online or by request.  Also, there are many professional organizations for specific practitioner groups which are great resources.   A good place to start is the Alternative Medicine Foundation or The Foundation for Alternative and Integrative Medicine (FAIM).

4. Shop around.   Once you have a few practitioners in mind, look into their education and experience.  If they have a website, check out their credentials.  Call them up for more information about cost, and if they’re amenable, ask some questions about their experience treating patients with problems similar to yours, and their philosophy of care.

5. Make an appointment. At your first meeting, you could ask about benefits, risks, scientific studies to back up this therapy’s use, and how long treatment will take.  Consider how comfortable you are with the person, how confident you feel in their abilities, and how well you feel they answered your questions.

Relax and engage in the process once you’ve found someone you like, respect and trust.  It’s your body, mind and spirit and you are a partner with your health care practitioners in your own well-being. Feel good knowing you’re doing something positive for yourself.

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One Response to How to Choose an Integrative Medicine Practitioner

  1. Eve Harris says:

    Interesting article. However your definition of terms is not quite the norm. Integrative health care is the approach that incorporates both allopathic (traditional western) and other treatment modalities (complementary and alternative, aka “CAM). The term “integrative” implies the care is coordinated by someone with expertise in both worlds. Better resources for your readers include the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine http://nccam.nih.gov/ and the seminal American integrative medicine training program http://integrativemedicine.arizona.edu/.

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