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Integrative medicine is a healing-oriented medicine practice that focuses on the entire person when developing a plan for healthcare. While many of the methods used are ancient remedies – like acupuncture – or changes in diet, the cost of treatments and accessibility to the right foods and supplements might not be feasible for some and give integrative medicine the air of being a practice only available to the rich. However, despite the high costs that come with some aspects of integrative medicine, this effective practice can be reasonably cost-efficient when you focus on the changes that individuals can make.

At its core, integrative medicine focuses on holistic care. As a result, when studying a patient’s gastrointestinal problems, you don’t just look at the GI system; you examine the whole person. How much sleep do they get? What’s their diet? What does their home environment look like versus their work environment? What facets of their life could be contributing to the problem? All of these factors and more are taken into consideration when dealing with a plan for care.

Integrative medicine also calls for a much closer doctor/patient partnership where care is collaborative and ongoing, rather than on an issue-by-issue basis. It also places huge importance on preventative care, where the focus is on helping keep the body holistically healthy to prevent any health concerns from arising. Because of the continued basis of care and the focus on prevention, integrative medicine is the key to providing poor and marginalized communities with the healthcare that they need. People in underserved communities often experience more stress which leads to chronic medical conditions and poor health, all of which could be treated with an integrative approach.

Providing integrative care to underserved communities is especially crucial at this time when our nation is facing an opioid crisis spawned from a drug-heavy approach to managing chronic pain. While many physicians are quick to prescribe painkillers, even long-term, to help manage pain, integrative medicine offers a number of modalities in their place including massage therapy, herbal medicine, and acupuncture which have all been shown to help reduce chronic pain. Furthermore, while pharmaceuticals — especially those for pain management — help you deal with the pain, they don’t treat the underlying issues that are the root of the pain in the first place. Opioids and painkillers also lack the ability to improve the patient’s overall quality of life. Using practices like mindfulness can help you improve your mental health as well as your physical health and can do so much more for chronic pain than simply numb it.

Integrative medicine holds the answer to a healthier society as a whole, and making it more accessible to underprivileged communities is the key to truly affecting healthcare change in America.