“What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything? ~ Vincent Van Gogh
When I created the Ommani Center over 21 years ago, Integrative Medicine was a newly coined term. Although I had been practicing medicine integratively for over 10 years by then, this definition was formally considered a broader context of Medicine that explored root causes of symptoms for purposes of mitigating them and curing disease. Healing modalities that were both conventional (traditional) and complementary were engaged, but with little to no standardization or evidence to ensure their safety or efficacy.
This medical context itself was intriguing, felt more meaningful and carried the promise to broaden the way medicine was practiced. It emphasized “patient-centered care,” a way of practice that was customized rather than commoditized. In other words, each patients unique story and experience was accounted for in the patient encounter, and the patient-physician relationship was also recognized as having a significant impact on healing.
This was a much richer context than how I was trained in medicine nearly 4 decades ago at The Albert Einstein College of Medicine, UCSF and Stanford, which offered exceptional training in traditional medicine, scientific method, biochemistry and physiology, but to me this felt empty and overly rational. Medical practice at this level was dry and shallow and didn’t heal patients. It merely diagnosed them and treated their symptoms.
Don’t get me wrong. My medical training was of immense value to me. Scientific evidence is the keystone of medicine. It not based on opinions but on hard data obtained through clinical trials, rigorously designed and peer reviewed with stringent rules of selection, methodology and data interpretation to guide physician choices for symptom management and treatment. It is the only way to ensure that our recommendations for treatment are more effective than placebo and cause as little harm as possible. But this is only in a perfect world.
Despite my first class medical training, I was not taught about how to prevent diseases, how aspects of the human experience beyond the physical realm effect health, or how to apply time tested, age old interventions to assist with health and healing. I was also not taught how to educate my patients, or how to engage my curiosity with what they intuitively knew made them sick. I was not taught that culture, family dynamics, generational factors, lifestyle choices and how they perceived reality impacted their health. My conditioning by the traditional medical system was lopsided towards being too mechanistic and did little to enrich my encounter with patients or facilitate their healing.
I have always been curious about why people get sick, what emotions drive their lifestyle choices and how to correct their body’s dysregulated state to give them the best chance to heal, as well as to grow in meaning and wisdom and learn how to improve their conversation with themselves and with life.
During my training at Stanford, much to the dismay of my mentors, who discouraged me from engaging and talking to my patients, I began asking my patients questions to address these deeper and causal factors. As I pursued this method of practice, I discovered my patients not only had better health outcomes than my colleagues, they were more interested in investing in their health and exploring ways of preventing and reversing disease. They also became more interested in living from a deeper life level, in making changes to reclaim their health, and became more joyful and engaged in their experience of life. This added greater depth and meaning to my own life, and I vowed to never abandon this approach in my life’s work as a physician.
Now, forty years later, my medical expertise and depth of knowledge has been layered by years of experience, dedication to scientific method, and clinical observation. Over the years I have seen “Integrative Medicine” in the public arena sadly morph into a marketing gimmick using complementary modalities to palliate symptoms just like medications are used in traditional medicine. The traditional/corporate system engages integrative medicine not because they are interested in healing, but in capturing market share. This is not integrative medicine but a sham that drives profits. I have also seen thousands of patients suffer the consequences of lack of evidence based interventions in the name of ‘holistic’ or integrative medicine, which they later seek me out to repair. Sadly, Holistic medicine nowadays is also neither integrative nor evidence based. “Functional Medicine” which was created to assist in a deeper exploration of the causality of illness has become a supplement dispensing track, claiming ‘exclusivity’ and authenticity, but it has lost its initial vision and mission and also become incentivized by money like most health care tracks in our society eventually are. So what is one to do? Where does one go for authentic medical care, for answers for healing, instruction and guidance for how to live from a place of health and meaning?
The traditional medical system has degenerated into a money making corporate structure that no longer uses scientific evidence with the purity it once did, but instead has commoditized symptoms to order expensive diagnostic tests and dispense medications and procedures. Most patients I see who have interfaced with this corporate system feel disrespected, not heard or validated, and complain about being unseen and uncared for by their health care providers. Health care providers themselves are under pressure to produce revenue for administrators that run these corporate systems. In fact, their employment depends on this. They are not able to practice Medicine from the place of purity with which they entered their vocation. Without a relational connection to their patients, no level of healing or meaning is possible. During my medical training nearly four decades ago, what has occurred in health care today would have been considered a dystopian nightmare. Sadly, I witness it daily in the stories and medical records of patients I see.
The purpose and authentic mission of Integrative Medicine is one of deep exploration to uncover the causes of illness for the purpose of healing. As mentioned above, traditional medicine focuses only on the physical manifestations of disease. Human beings are much more than just sacs of organs and biochemical mechanisms that go awry at random. They have feelings, relationships, emotional and energetic bodies. But we live in a culture that denies these levels of existence. Our medical system is no exception. Eastern healing disciplines like Chinese and Ayurvedic Medicine recognized these levels of existence many millennia ago. For example, Chinese Medicine is based on the premise that when the energy flow of the body is blocked or stagnates, dis-ease occurs. Hundreds of energy lines or meridians that run through our body correspond to feelings, emotions and organ systems. Chinese physicians mapped these out thousands of years ago. These are affected by seasonal changes, environmental factors, life stage, the food we eat and also stress. Acupuncture, Chinese herbs and dietary changes support the effects these factors have on our energy and restore its flow to heal symptoms and disease.
Another example is Ayurvedic Medicine, one of the most ancient forms of Medicine worldwide, which sees the five elements of the world as impacting the “doshas” or humors of the body. The combinations of doshas define our Ayurvedic constitution, a blueprint that can affect health and disease. When balanced by specific foods, Ayurvedic herbs, breathing practices, work-life balance, stress reduction, yoga and deeper levels of awareness, health is restored and disease reversal is facilitated. (Ayurveda has been reduced to a ‘certification’ in the US, abbreviating the depth of training needed to a much shorter course. Be sure your practitioner is thoroughly trained at a credible four year college of Ayurveda before engaging one).
If a physician has no awareness of this level of existence and how a depleted, or stressed body can impact a patients meridians or doshas, acupuncture, Chinese Medicine or Ayurveda would not even cross their mind as modalities to recommend. They would also not recommend changes in diet, lifestyle or the need for balance or healing. They would not think of recommending the need for self-care and self-nourishment, and would not ask questions that cause a person to seek answers from within, to gain self-awareness or consciousness. One would think that this kind of practice context would offer meaning and healing to patients and have the potential to enrich a physician’s vocational experience, but our addiction to materialism as well as the pervading corporate medical paradigm would be challenged, that has commoditized diseases and symptoms. Time itself is commoditized in traditional medicine, so units of time mean money, eclipsing it for exploration. Sadly, this is where we have landed in our health care system today, where neither health nor care, nor any healing complementary modality is offered authentically, all being sacrificed in favor of profit margin.
These are just some examples of the linearity and limits of Traditional Medicine. On one hand, scientific method is essential to keep patients and the public safe. But focus on only the physical level leaves medicine bereft of meaning. As we have seen, for healing to occur, deeper levels of disharmony must be explored and appropriate evidence based healing modalities engaged. This is the true mission of Integrative Medicine. When a patient is triaged by a physician practicing in this manner, the physician must be also aware of these deeper levels their own life to know how to ask the right questions to uncover disharmony. Evidence based care is essential for patient safety and the proper use of scientific method in the correct context is of the utmost importance. A physicians opinion about a treatment must be backed by evidence based data. Opinions are not scientific and can mislead patients into expensive holistic treatments that do not heal them. Discernment must take precedence over desperation, which is difficult to engage when one is sick and afraid. Authentic medical practice must be upheld by any integrative medical practitioner for them to be trustworthy and to restore the sanctity of medicine which has been sadly pushed to the side.
So when searching for an integrative medicine physician, be certain that their practice is evidence based, that they are have rigorous and high quality training in traditional medicine and scientific method, they are experienced and seasoned in disease reversal, and engage proper use of only evidence based complementary modalities.
At The Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine, I have been perfecting and elevating the standard of care of Integrative Medicine for over two decades, which is both a cost and therapeutically effective, high quality medical model of personalized and evidence-based care.
Currently, the traditional medical model is collapsing under the weight of its greed with rising rates of physician burnout and patient dissatisfaction. In addition, a rising percentage of non-evidence based holistic clinics are unable to meet safety standards for their patients. This is a prime opportunity for us to envision our current medical system evolve into a cost effective integrative medical framework that is evidence based, scientific, authentic, safe, healing and restorative for all who desire to transform illness into health and well-being.
©May2022 Kalpana (Rose) M. Kumar M.D., CEO and Medical Director, The Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine, Pewaukee, WI. www.ommanicenter.com Author of Becoming Real: Reclaiming Your Health in Midlife (2nd Edition), Medial Press, 2014. Dr. Kumar is currently accepting new patients. Call 262.695.5311 for an appointment, either virtual or in-person for those free of symptoms.