Has traditional medicine let you down?

Doctor with stethoscope checking patient heart beatWe see it every day. Many of my patients come to us suffering from conditions or even grappling with the symptoms undiagnosed ones– sometimes for many years – that have not been relieved with conventional medicine. Why does traditional medicine fail to help some patients?

If you ask two different integrative practitioners the same question you might get two different answers. We believe it has to do with the approach to medical problems. In the traditional model, general practitioners are trained to analyze symptoms, come to a diagnosis, and prescribe medication to resolve the issue at hand. These providers often focus on diagnoses for specific areas of the body, often without considering their relationship to the whole.

We see this played out in specialties in western medicine. For instance, the gastroenterologist specializes in intestines; the cardiologist in the cardiovascular system; and the neurologist focuses on the nervous system. Each practitioner tends to stay in their respective lane, which can be detrimental to the patient’s overall health.

At the same time, consumers of health services themselves have adopted this compartmentalized approach. The patient acts as if their body is a motor vehicle and expects the doctor to fix, add, remove, replace, tighten, loosen, adjust or recharge whatever piece needs work so that the machine operates at optimal performance.

We probably don’t have to tell you that a human being is not a machine. We’re an integrated and complete living organism. It’s rare, except in the case of an accident, that a health problem is truly localized. In most cases, the most prominent symptoms may be localized, but it’s generally the entire individual that’s suffering.

This view is problematic and doesn’t serve the patient in the end. That’s because symptoms are not the disease. They’re the body’s way of telling us that something is amiss. Naming those symptoms with a diagnosis and taking medication to relieve them does not heal a person. Conversely, the only way to resolve ongoing health issues is to look at the whole body as a system – not isolated parts of it – and identify the underlying cause(s) of those symptoms.

This is precisely what practitioners of functional medicine are trained to do. Such medical professionals learn how all the organs and systems in our bodies are interconnected. Armed with this training and insight, they can then determine the root cause of a patient’s symptoms. In other words, they focus less on pinning a diagnosis on a patient and more on identifying what the body needs to heal. What’s more, their objective is not just to help their patients heal from specific ailments, but to enjoy an overall healthier lifestyle.

In contrast, modern medicine is reactive and tends to place a focus on managing sickness. Today, if a patient exhibits hypertension, he or she will generally be prescribed a drug to lower it. Similarly, a patient with high cholesterol will be prescribed statins. A type 2 diabetic would be advised to take Metformin or the like. Unfortunately, most modern providers don’t have the foresight to ask: “Why is this patient exhibiting this symptom now?” or “What has changed to cause these symptoms to develop?” What results is often a localized intervention that does little or nothing to address the deep-rooted cause of the illness.

Finally, one of the biggest shortfalls of traditional medicine is that the patient is not really at the center of their care. They need to feel some agency. For instance, a doctor may talk to them about a healthy diet or getting enough exercise, but this advice is so generalized and so vague the patient likely won’t make any lifestyle modifications. Even in situations where diet and exercise can really move the needle, few doctors offer specific dietary recommendations and even fewer will refer the patient to a nutritionist. At best, some providers may advise their patients to modify their diet and exercise regularly before going the pharmaceutical route, but they are few and far between. Therefore, the patient is not given the responsibility for taking the situation into their own hands.

On that note, we’re flipping the script here at Proactive Wellness Centers with integrative medicine. This is medical care that puts the patient at the center of treatment. It’s an approach that tries to consider and address the full range of physical, social, emotional, environmental, and even spiritual reasons for illness. In short, integrative medicine tries to recognize that each individual is unique and is facing unique circumstances that may be impacting their health and wellness. We believe that promoting the health of the body takes a complete approach to lifestyle, nutrition, addressing physical activity levels and sleep quality, and looking for any allergies or intolerances.

If you’re fed up with traditional medicine and want answers, that’s exactly what we offer. Give us a call at (703) 822-5003and breathe a sigh of relief knowing you’re closer to living a fuller life.