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The value of integrative care

Written by Diane Archer

As much as we may believe that different health conditions from which we suffer can be treated independently of one another, there is ample evidence to suggest that they tend to be interconnected and often should be treated as such. Katherine Gergen Barnett, M.D. explains in a Health Affairs post the value of integrative care, doctors who look at the whole patient when providing treatment, not discrete conditions.

In short, Barnett explains that a good doctor treats the person–understands the range of personal, social, medical and emotional issues his or her patient is facing–in order to heal the patient. Put differently, as Hippocrates is believed to have said, “It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease that person has.” In turn, it’s generally helpful for the millions of people who suffer from chronic conditions to have peer support as well as lifestyle support, in addition to medical support, to promote better health.

Dr. Barnett, along with her colleagues at the Boston Medical Center, have created an integrative medicine group to better treat patients with multiple conditions. Their patients, all of whom suffer from chronic pain–as do some 100 million Americans–benefit from group medical visits, the principles of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), and evidenced-based complementary medicine.

  • Group medical visits: In this care model, as many as 12 patients with a shared condition–e.g., diabetes, back pain, high blood pressure, arthritis–see the doctor at the same time. These visits allow for peer-to-peer support–a type of buddy system–as well as more time for the medical visit. The social aspect of the visit also can promote better health.  The research suggests that these group visits can improve quality of life for patients.
  • Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR): Research further shows that mindful meditation and purpose promote better health. They can ease stress, improve mental health and reduce pain.
  • Integrative medicine: With integrative medicine, doctors see and understand the whole person requiring treatment and recognize that treatment can include help with lifestyle changes. Patients may be offered evidence-based complementary medicine, such as tai chi to improve balance, yoga to promote calm, or acupuncture, all of which can help reduce pain.

Integrative care is still a relatively new concept. To see if it’s available in your community, contact your local hospital. And, if it is, and you’re suffering from pain and other chronic conditions, you might consider learning more about it. You might also want to learn more about good incremental care, another evidence-based approach to alleviating pain that treats the whole person.

Here’s more from Just Care:


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