For Health Care Professionals
Dear fellow healthcare practitioner…
I invite you to come explore, with an open mind, the areas of healing that, if you’re like me, you were not exposed to in your medical training.
I am a conventionally-trained Medical Doctor (UT-Houston, 2002). I was practicing traditional family medicine at a busy, successful rural county health clinic in Post, TX when my eyes were opened to the fact that I was merely managing patients symptoms/diseases (which I thought was the only option) instead of arresting, reversing, eliminating and preventing disease (which I was told couldn’t happen).
But now I have found that Integrative and Functional Medicine offers the chance to do just that, REVERSE and ELIMINATE diseases, not just manage them. This is true health and wellness instead of disease management, i.e. “sickcare”. Sickcare is failing all of us. Our patients are living sicker and dying younger. It is time to take a hard look at all the evidence, not just the pharmaceutically-backed studies.
I encourage you to view a couple of videos that I hope will start to open your mind a bit. The first features Mark Hyman, the head of Institute of Functional Medicine. Check out his 2010 TEDMED video here: 2010 TEDMED. It will give you a better idea of what I’m talking about and why so many physicians are choosing this path.
I have a lot of colleagues who ask me two things:
First, what exactly are you doing? Second, what made you change your medical-practice style?
The answer is the same for both, “I’m doing what is best for the patient.” I truly believe, although I’ve been told I’m naive, that every physician would do exactly what I did when presented with the cases I was presented with.
Imagine the toughest patients in your practice: the fibromyalgia, IBS, chronic fatigue, depression, recurrent-infections patients. Now, imagine them asymptomatic and off most, if not all, pharmaceuticals. Seems like a dream world, right? Well, that’s what I have seen. Most integrative physicians, like Dr. Hyman, will tell you their own personal story of illness that took them from colleague to colleague looking for answers at the medical school with unsatisfactory results. They were taking the prescribed medications but they didn’t feel any better.
This forced these physicians to look for other answers outside of the narrow scope of treatments we all learned in medical school. I didn’t have any personal medical problems but I sure had a lot of sick patients…on a whole lot of drugs. As I started learning and implementing some basic concepts of integrative or functional medicine I saw AMAZING things (See Patient Testimonials). My very toughest and most frustrating cases (chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, IBS, chronic migraine, chronic depression, and chronic dermatitis of unknown origin) got better and usually became asymptomatic. These were patients I (and many specialists) had spent years trying to help. And here they were, in a matter of days or weeks, doing much better and on fewer medications, or no medications at all.
One case in particular stands out: a 73-year-old, 330-lb gentleman who was on nine medications (two anti-hypertensives, two ant-acids, four diabetic meds, and a statin). I had started him on most of these medications in the previous seven years of taking care of him. In a matter of eight weeks he was off of all but a single half-dose of one of his diabetic medications and had lost thirty-five lbs. But, the most meaningful thing to me was when he came back for a follow-up visit with tears in his eye and said, “Doc, thanks for giving me my life back. I was basically sitting around in my recliner waiting to die. Now, I’m out in the garden, living life again!”
Another patient who had constant migraine headaches for over thirty-plus years (resistant to all meds, having seen a couple of neurologists) became headache-free about a month after I saw her. She remains that way today, a year later. The patients who used to cause me to cringe a little on the inside when they walked through the door (fibromyalgia, chronic depression, IBS, etc.) now are my favorite patients to see.
I think most of the people in my medical school class were there for the right reason, trying to help their fellowman. And now they are out there doing what they were trained to do. But do you ever feel you are practicing a kind of cookbook medicine, just following standard-of-care protocols, cranking through patients like cattle? A1c: high, start Glucophage…next patient. BP greater than 140/90, start hydrochlorathizide…next patient. Asthmatic taking albuterol more than twice a week, start Advair…next patient. But what happens to the patient in all of this? He/she becomes not much more than a number. Their symptom or disease is not seen as reversible, just manageable at best.
When I first started my private practice in Post, TX, I had a patient tell me “Doc, you know you’re just treating my symptoms.” I said, “No, you have a disease and without these medications you’ll suffer more and die sooner.” True, but what about the third option of getting to the root cause of these things? Root cause? Why haven’t we heard more about that? Why wasn’t that part of our medical training?
I hate to say it, but looking at it from the fresh perspective of Integrative/Functional medicine, I have come to a bold conclusion: in medical school we are simply taught how to play one big matching-game. We learn how to gather a very thorough history, analyze lots of data from labs and tests and come up with a diagnosis which is really just the label that all these symptoms and labs seem to fit with the most. Then we match that diagnosis or label with the corresponding man-made pharmaceutical, prescribe it, and then continue to prescribe it for the remainder of the patient’s life. Again, it really is just a matching-game, matching symptoms to a label and the label to a drug.
I know for a fact there is a better way because I get to see patients every day that shed the labels. We get to the root of the symptomatology and therefore reverse the symptomatology or “disease.”
I was trained in the age of “evidence-based medicine” much to the chagrin of both of my grandfathers who were old-school country doctors. I thought they just didn’t understand. They weren’t “up with the times.” However, as I look at things from a different perspective now, I think that what they feared was that the original definition of evidence-based medicine would be forgotten. I believe it has been. “The integration of the best research evidence with clinical expertise and patient values” (Sackett & Rosenberg, 1995) was the original definition. All I remember from medical school and residency was the “best research evidence” part of the definition. But who is producing this research? Who is funding it? Aren’t all the studies being released just the ones that will support the next great drug? The following video by Ben Goldacre speaks well to this: Ben Goldacre TEDMED 2012.
What I speak of in this letter is only what I have seen and experienced for myself, not just what I’ve heard or happen to believe. What I once thought was impossible in helping people with their health, I’m actually doing every day. It’s possible for you too if you are willing to expand your horizons beyond the pharmaceutically-based industry you and I were trained in.
I sincerely invite you to call, email or stop by the clinic anytime if you are interested in learning more. I would be happy to point you in the direction of some books, journals, and conferences that could teach more about what has become to me…“good medicine.”