New center bridges gap between conventional and alternative medicine

University of Michigan Health System
Monday, 8 December 2003

I M Well Center integrates medicines to best serve individual patient needs

Whether patients have exhausted all medical treatments, had a negative experience with the conventional health care system, or are seeking options to their medical care that they see as more "natural" or gentle, they often turn to alternative medicine.

However, patients using conventional and alternative medicine together are often overwhelmed by information, or experience a lack of understanding or uncoordinated care among their providers, leaving them with little guidance on how to successfully integrate therapies from different medical worlds.

Now a new center at the University of Michigan Health System is working to bridge that gap between conventional and alternative medicines by providing patients with guidance in selecting an alternative and conventional treatment plan that is best for them. It is also helping to bring together health care providers from the two medical worlds to treat the patient as a "whole."

The Integrative Medicine Wellness (I M Well) Center, part of the U-M Integrative Medicine Program, is especially designed to address the needs of the many patients and physicians who have questions about "unconventional" diagnoses and treatments for health challenges.

The I M Well Center practices Integrative Medicine, healing-oriented medicine that takes account of the whole person - body, mind, spirit - including all aspects of lifestyle. Integrative Medicine emphasizes the therapeutic relationship and makes use of all appropriate therapies, both conventional and alternative. The center exemplifies a healing environment with the goal of optimizing a patient's health.

Located in U-M Briarwood Family Practice in Ann Arbor, the center is staffed by three U-M family medicine physicians who are conventionally trained with additional expertise in alternative medicine, along with a registered dietitian and a certified holistic nurse.

The group works together, and with other conventional health care providers, to not only help guide patients through the maze of alternative medicine options available, but also increase communication between patients and their health care providers, says Monica Myklebust, M.D., medical director of the I M Well Center.

"I M Well helps open the door for patients to talk more freely with their doctors about their alternative medicine use," notes Myklebust, a clinical instructor in the Department of Family Medicine at the U-M Medical School. "Often, we see patients who are reluctant to discuss their alternative medicine use with their physicians. They may fear how their physician will respond, or they don't realize that alternative medicine use is something that is really important to mention during their visit. I M Well works to open the lines of communication between all people involved in the care of a patient."

Many patients at the center have a life-threatening or chronic illness, and most have already had treatments based in conventional medicine. For many of these patients either the conventional approach did not resolve their symptoms or problems, they were unable to tolerate the approach offered, or they are seeking non-conventional methods to expand their care, says Myklebust. The center is also geared toward helping healthy individuals who are looking to integrate conventional and alternative medicine as a long-term preventive measure to optimize their health.

Patients at the I M Well begin with an evaluation with a holistic nurse, followed by a 90-minute consultation with a physician. The consultation allows the patients discuss their life and medical history in detail, and also to highlight what they are hoping to achieve with alternative medicine, says Myklebust.

As part of the center's Adult Integrative Medicine Consultation, the patient and physician develop a treatment plan that integrates conventional and alternative therapies to best serve the individual's needs based on their unique stage in life, their health status and their priorities for optimal wellness. The treatment plan may recommend relaxation exercises, movement therapy, spiritual practice or journaling all to address the patient's mind, body, spirit and emotion.

The plan may also guide patients toward the alternative medicine practitioners who offer acupuncture, massage therapy or osteopathic manipulation in their community. I M Well does recommend that the patients still maintain a close relationship with a primary care physician in their community as well, and their prescribing physician direct that any medication changes. During follow-up visits, the physician and patient work together to modify the treatment plan as needed.

The center also offers Women's Holistic Health Care Herbal Medicine Consultation provided by Sara Warber, M.D., who was trained as an herbalist by a Native American healer and has guided patients in the use of herbs in conjunction with conventional medicine for more than five years. Rick Bartelme, M.D., also provides Anthroposophic Medicine Consultation, a holistic, integrative, and human-centered approach to medicine. In addition, the center offers Holistic Nutrition, which creates practical individualized plans to guide the choice and preparation of delicious, healthy whole foods.

" I M Well offers patient a comfortable place to seek guidance about integrating various medical options," says Myklebust. "Participation in their Integrative Medicine plan allows our patients to prioritize and invest in the decisions they make about their health it also gives them other options to taking a pill or suffering with pain and discomfort."

Since integrative medicine is a new approach, the center will measure outcomes, efficiency, and patient and provider satisfaction as it strives to develop the best health care model.

The I M Well Center has been made possible through the combined vision and generosity of individual donors and the U-M Medical School. I M Well is committed to inter-disciplinary collaboration at the U-M Medical School, university, community, and national levels to ensure its goal of optimal health care. For more information, including clinic hours, visit www.med.umich.edu/imp/imwell/ or call 734-998-6649.

For more information, or to contact University of Michigan Health System, see their website at: www.med.umich.edu

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