The New Face of Integrative Health

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Alternative healers have more opportunities than ever before to work alongside their Western medicine counterparts.

stethoscope arranged with colorful herbs and oil
stephanie behring

It used to be a lot harder to find holistic, natural healthcare. Patients had to seek out small organic food stores or search the internet to find private holistic practitioners in their local area. In large parts of the country, it could be difficult to find an acupuncturist, herbalist, or midwife. In fact, people unable to find alternative care at home would sometimes travel overseas where the care they were seeking was more commonly practiced.

That’s not the case anymore. Today, as holistic health practices become more mainstream, access to them keeps getting easier. A consumer can now buy an herbal remedy at their local drug store or supermarket and use a government-backed app to learn about its benefits.

A patient’s primary care doctor might refer them to an acupuncturist to help manage pain. In many cases, their insurance will even pay for the sessions.

As society embraces holistic health, alternative healthcare providers are seeing huge shifts in how they practice and where they work. While many holistic providers still open a private practice, it’s no longer their only option.

Making the Move

Major hospital systems and health networks around the country are now including natural and holistic care in the services they provide to patients. Small practices that combine the skills of holistic providers and Western medicine providers like nurses and physical therapists are also becoming more common.

“Integrative models are not being used instead of traditional care, but alongside of, or in addition to,” says Tara Scott, MD, who was hired at Summa Health in Akron, Ohio, to develop, design, and run an integrative medicine department in a five-hospital system.

Where Integrative Health is Found

From practices composed of only a few practitioners to renowned facilities such as the Cleveland Clinic or Duke Medicine, integrative medicine is easier to find than ever. Common places you might see the integrative model include:

  • Research hospitals
  • Community hospitals
  • Health systems
  • Cancer treatment centers
  • Birthing or childcare centers
  • Integrative medicine clinics

What’s Behind the Shift?

Several factors are driving the shift to integrative care models. One of the biggest is patient demand. Simply put, there is more integrative care because patients are asking for it.

“Social media, the internet, and patients have actually been the ones moving the needle now,” says Scott, who also founded and serves as chief medical officer of Revitalize Medical Group, an integrative medicine practice in Akron.

Plus, studies at integrative centers around the country have shown positive patient responses and experiences with integrative care. Patients often report an improvement in their symptoms and in their overall wellness when integrative therapies are part of their treatment plan. These positive results add to the growth of these programs and the demand for integrative care.

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Insurance and Integrative Health

Passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010 helped bring alternative care to the forefront. A provision of the act, Section 2706, required that insurers include and reimburse licensed healthcare providers in health insurance plans. This includes a variety of licensed holistic healthcare providers, such as:

  • Acupuncturists
  • Naturopaths
  • Midwives
  • Massage therapists

This requirement makes it much easier for these professionals to work alongside a traditional Western health practitioner. It also allows people more options to choose the type of healthcare that works best for them.

How Natural Health Providers Fit In

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In the past, holistic or natural healing providers largely worked alone, either as sole proprietors or in small clinics. While plenty still work this way, others choose to become part of an integrative care team and work in a larger facility that employs many types of healthcare providers— both alternative and traditional.

In some integrative health facilities, you might work alongside nurses, physical therapists, and other Western healthcare providers. In other cases, you might refer patients to practitioners who can help patients determine the treatment they need.

In other practices, providers who are trained and educated in multiple modalities all work together. This might include…

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