Dr. Bret Scher: Let’s define proven benefits

Dr. Bret Scher

Integrative Wisdom is a collection of insights from individuals across the integrative medicine community, who share this common mission: making integrative medicine part of every healthcare discussion. Now it’s your turn. Read real insights from individuals who are actively participating in this conversation.

Dr. Bret Scher discusses defining proven benefits.When it comes to integrative care, a pressing issue before us is how we define “proven benefits.” There are ways of caring for people that have been proven to be beneficial. But the definition of “beneficial” may be narrow and may not apply to everyone. Just because something hasn’t been extensively studied (i.e. for lack of big-budget funding support) that does not mean it doesn’t work.

I tend to avoid political discussions and simply vow to provide the best care I can regardless of the political framework, but regardless of who is paying the healthcare tab, it is a challenge to decide what should be covered care and what should not. Integrative, alternative, and holistic care will always have an uphill battle given the differences in funding for research and the differences in approach to care. I can only hope that whomever is paying the bill will keep an open mind and prioritize an all-encompassing approach that promotes health and the prevention of disease.

The main barrier then to collaboration across modalities is lack of knowledge and the subsequent fear of the unknown. Conventionally trained physicians learn little-to-nothing about alternative, integrative, or holistic care. They spend years, and sometimes decades, learning one paradigm for treating patients. We can’t blame them for thinking this is the “right” way to care for patients.

In general, they see integrative practitioners as “quacks” or as a threat to their way of medicine. This is a generalization, of course, but I can’t help but think that increased education among traditionally trained doctors would help them understand more about the similarities between the two worlds of medicine, and thus focus less on the differences and the conflicts. If more doctors could experience the power of integrative care, and see that it can be a responsible way of caring for people and helping them improve their health, then we can start to take more steps toward collaboration.

Another barrier is access to care which can be overcome by telemedicine and Skype consults. These are an easy and effective way to improve access to integrative practitioners. The physical exam component is still a challenge, but obtaining a thorough history, reviewing lab work, and have a detailed conversation with people is easy to do. After all, the most powerful tool we have is listening.

Traditional healthcare allows 15-minutes or less for the average doctor’s visit. How much listening really happens in those visits? Not enough. But if we can take the time to listen and really understand what someone is feeling and going through, what they have tried in the past, what their success and limitations have been, then we can take significant steps toward improving their health. All of that can be done remotely via telemedicine or Skype calls. As more small towns experience the benefits of integrative care, then the demand will increase and hopefully encourage practitioners to establish local practices.

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