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The argument for an integrated approach to patient health

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a passionate advocate of integrative healthcare – an approach that allows clinical health providers, complementary therapists, and the patients themselves to be actively involved in delivering treatment.

It’s a totally logical approach if you think about it. By working in a collaborative and complementary way, a patient’s health plan benefits from different inputs that are designed to be mutually supportive to the extent that the effectiveness of the treatment becomes greater than the sum of its component parts.

The patient is an essential part of an integrated approach to healthcare because often the care delivered by clinicians and therapists can be undermined by poor lifestyle choices.

If the patient is actively involved in their treatment, and understands the role they play, this exponentially improves the likelihood of achieving the best possible outcome.

Given the logicality of an integrated approach to health, it’s quite remarkable to me that the medical establishment seems so disinclined to embrace complementary treatments as part of the delivery of clinical care.

It’s important to make it clear that I’m privileged to work collaboratively with a number of exceptional doctors who do see the benefit of an integrative approach to care, suggesting that we are definitely starting to see a paradigm shift in thinking.

But we are still a long way from changing the wider mindset of the medical profession – a profession that sees the value of educating people about their own attitudes to health but appears utterly resistant to the notion that complementary care delivered by highly trained professionals could play an important part in public health.

The fundamental ethos of patient-centric care – namely that medicine should take account of all available options to ensure the good health of those they treat – is more or less disregarded from the moment a student enters medical school.

The attitude of much of academia – too much, I would argue – seems to be that clinical care is a zero-sum game in which clinical care is the only care that matters.

There are signs that this is changing at a grass roots level. Many GPs now see the benefit that complementary treatment can bring in a more holistic approach – but by and large those such as Public Health England that shape and sanction meical policy choose not to see the positives (or refuse to acknowledge them if they do).

In the process, we fail to ensure that the upcoming generation of medical professionals not only have informed knowledge of how complementary health treatments can support their work but are also able to provide patients with the information needed to make informed decisions about the delivery of their care.

The core of integrative health is the acceptance and acknowledgement that complementary services, such as acupuncture, non-clinical physical therapy, herbal therapy, hypnotherapy, and aromatherapy, can support and enhance clinical care that is provided through surgical or pharmaceutical intervention.

What does this look like in practice? Well, as an example, consider a patient who is experiencing depression and is motivated to seek help.

Supposing, for the sake of argument, that their symptoms don’t constitute an immediate risk or risk to their health, the patient would likely visit their GP in the first instance.

The likelihood is that the patient will be prescribed a pharmaceutical treatment, maybe in the form of antidepressants. Or, if the patient’s condition is thought to be more serious and requires specialised care, they may be referred to a specialised mental health service.

Beyond detailing symptoms and giving context, it’s unlikely that the patient would be asked for their opinion or input regarding their ongoing care. And its even more unlikely that their GP or clinical specialist will have informed them about non-clinical care options that could support any suggested clinical treatments.

As lay people, we are conditioned to accept our GP’s diagnosis and treatment, unaware that other treatment, support, or care options might be available.

This is the misinformed patient’s world, in which a lack of information inevitably translates into limited options. Lack of choice also means that people have less influence over their own health outcomes.

Collaboration in healthcare is necessary for effective integrative health.

It ensures the patient is fully informed of the advantages and disadvantages of therapeutic therapy options and understands the practical benefits that may or may not be achieved through complementary, alternative, non-clinical therapies, as well as from treatments that support clinical health paths.

Moreover, it offers the best possible hope of engaging with a treatment strategy that will likely result in the best outcome for them.

Making integrated health a cornerstone of contemporary healthcare does not imply that all treatment regimens should include complementary therapies or treatments.

Currently, though, the patient is often only a passenger in their treatment and recovery. This would not be the case if we were to embrace new ways of thinking and acknowledge the overwhelming arguments and evidence that non-clinical care may play a beneficial part in providing effective health outcomes.

And of course,  this would in turn help to relieve some of the burden faced by an understaffed and underfunded NHS.


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