One of the most common questions I get when I tell people I am transitioning to a career in Integrative and Functional Medicine is “what does that mean.” This is a very valid question given then rather confusing landscape of healthcare delivery. Although many of the philosophies of Integrative/Functional Medicine have been around since the time of Hippocrates the concepts are rather new and innovative when compared with the “disease management” system we have in place today.

Integrative, alternative, functional, holistic—it’s easy to get lost in the lingo of modern medicine. Say you have a migraine. You could choose to treat it by seeing a general practitioner, an acupuncturist, or even attending a yoga class. The vast array of medical care options is impressive—and perhaps a bit overwhelming. Here’s a brief guide to the various approaches available today.

1. Conventional Medicine

Conventional or mainstream medicine is what comes to mind when you think of standard health care. The primary goal of conventional care is to cure patients by eliminating physical symptoms of illness and injuries usually through the use of pharmaceutical drugs. If you have an infection you get an antibiotic if you have high blood pressure you get an antihypertensive. It tends to be a much more reactive as opposed to proactive which can be very costly in the long run. There is high pressure on doctors to see as many patients in as little time as possible which makes it difficult to nurture a good doctor/patient relationship.

2. Alternative Medicine

This approach includes nontraditional treatments such as Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, homeopathy, acupuncture, yoga, herbal remedies, hypnotherapy, massage, or chiropractic therapy.

3. Complementary Medicine

“Alternative” and “complementary” are often used interchangeably, but they’re actually different concepts. When patients use non-mainstream (alternative) treatments in conjunction with traditional medicine, it’s referred to as complementary medicine—or CAM. When you turn to only non-mainstream therapies as treatment that’s considered “alternative.”

4. Integrative Medicine

Integrative medicine is an approach to care that puts the patient at the center and addresses the full range of physical, emotional, mental, social, spiritual and environmental influences that affect a person’s health. Employing a personalized strategy that considers the patient’s unique conditions, needs and circumstances, it uses the most appropriate interventions from an array of scientific disciplines to heal illness and disease and help people regain and maintain optimum health.

The defining principles of integrative medicine are:
• The patient and practitioner are partners in the healing process.
• All factors that influence health, wellness and disease are taken into consideration, including body, mind, spirit and community.
• Providers use all healing sciences to facilitate the body’s innate healing response.
• Effective interventions that are natural and less invasive are used whenever possible.
• The care is personalized to best address the individual’s unique conditions, needs and circumstances.

5. Functional Medicine

Functional medicine came into play in 1991 when Jeffrey Bland, Ph.D., founded the Institute for Functional Medicine. Functional medicine addresses the underlying causes of disease, using a systems-oriented approach and engaging both patient and practitioner in a therapeutic partnership. It is an evolution in the practice of medicine that better addresses the healthcare needs of chronic disease management. Functional medicine uses sophisticated testing and history taking to get at the root cause of disease and dysfunction. Conventional medicine is the medicine of WHAT – what disease, what pill. Functional medicine is the medicine of WHY — why is this symptom occurring now and in this way and what are its origins

Functional medicine and integrative medicine are on the same page when it comes to breaking down the many segments of conventional, specialized medicine: The whole body matters, the patient experience matters, and the doctor-patient connection matters.

For me, the way I see it as my Integrative Medicine training teaches me all the different modalities to treat illness and promote health and my Functional Medicine training gives me a framework in which to apply them.

Dr. Dyer, IntegrativeDO
Premier Integrative Health