Integrative Health - Doctors & Therapists working together

As an Integrated Wellness Specialist, I was very pleased to attend the Integrative Health conference in London. The conference was organised by two inspiring Integrative Health GPs, supported by the College of Medicine and attended by GPs and Complementary Therapists. 

The aim of my article here is to share the key messages from the conference and to highlight some of the ways that GPs and Complementary Therapists can keep the conference momentum going and move ahead in a positive direction.

What is Integrative Health?

Integrative Health is the joining of traditional medicine and Complementary Therapies. At the conference Dr Toh Wong and Dr Naveed Akhtar brought together GPs and Complementary Therapists from around the world - to connect and to gain insight on each other’s health and wellness work.

We attended because we recognise that Integrative Health represents:

-          A combined approach which is powerful for delivering health support for patients

-          A combination of physical and emotional elements are key factors for wellness

The 33 speakers delivered quality, informative talks. A selection of these are available to watch free of charge here Integrative Health Convention and I highly recommend you check them out.  

The power of shared values

From the start of the conference, attendees felt connected and inspired by the same shared values – a true desire to help people, to make a difference, an absolute commitment to give the best care, have the courage to create change and a willingness to learn and work together. 

Dr Wong’s opening words to the conference were: “You are here because you believe we can work better, we can bridge that gap between the two approaches.”

Why is bridging the gap so vital?

This bridging of the gap is key to the future health of people.  The sad reality is the NHS, amazing as it is, cannot meet increasing demands:

o   There were 60% more prescriptions in 2007 than in 1997 (Simon Mills, College of Medicine) and 108.5% more anti-depressants prescriptions in 2016 than in 2006 (NHS Digital)

o   Lifestyle illnesses such as anxiety, tired all the time (TATT), diabetes and pain are constantly increasing:

1 in 2 are overweight (Dr Toh Wong)

1 in 2 have heart disease (Dr Toh Wong)

1 in 2 are stressed with work/life in general (Dr Toh Wong)

1/3 of all sickness is due to stress, anxiety and depression (Dr Toh Wong)

1 in 3 have cancer (Dr Toh Wong)

Empowering and educating people about self-care, helping people to work on the root cause instead of the symptom and showing people that there are alternative ways to support the body and mind other than via a prescription is fundamental. This is backed up by the statistics and the ‘Social Prescription’ initiatives that the NHS and the College of Medicine are involved in:

o   40% of patients come in with complaints suitable for self-care – most frequently pain and fatigue) (Simon Mills, College of Medicine)

o   20% of consultation issues seen by GPs (back pain, fatigue, stress, IBS, anxiety) involving annual costs of 38k per GP, are suitable for self-care (Simon Mills, College of Medicine)

o   On average we have 5 visits per year to the GP (approx. 1-2 hours), that leaves 8758 hours for us to take care of ourselves (Simon Mills, College of Medicine)

o   Only 2% of the NHS budget is spent on Public Health and Prevention. (Dr Toh Wong)

As we all know, no change equates to no change and you don’t know what you don’t know! So, an important part of the conference was to gain insight into the barriers that have been preventing this combined approach from happening.

Why GPs hands are often tied and tired!

GPs see or talk to between 30-70 patients a day for 10 minutes each. Within that short time GPs need to understand the issue, diagnose and give advice. GPs fully recognise patients deserve more time and support, yet it’s the lack of time, the patient expectation of a quick fix prescription and the main issues below that stop them from discussing Complementary Therapies and other non-drug alternatives:  

-          GPs don’t know enough about the benefits of the many Complementary Therapies available, and don’t know which to recommend

-          Everything is heavily regulated for GPs – they are unsure whether the Complementary Therapy is evidenced, regulated, covered by therapist’s insurance

What Complementary Therapists want GPs to know

-          Complementary Therapists are trained, qualified, insured, and are members of professional bodies. Proof of these important quality and integrity standards can be easily provided

-          There are many techniques and self-care tools available that give invaluable support to a patient in a short time that reduces GP patient workload

-          Complementary Therapists recognise red flags and know when to refer to conventional medicine

-          Most Complementary Therapists are willing to give free initial advice

-          One hour of someone listening to a patient, understanding the patient as a whole person and giving a patient wellness expertise is often of much greater value to patients than the cost of a session

-          Complementary Therapists know the importance of confidentiality and are always willing to give time and demonstrations to explain how they can best help GPs and patients - with no obligation

What can we do to support the NHS and keep the conference momentum going?

For GPs

-          Be open minded and allow fully qualified, regulated and insured practitioners into Practice meetings to demonstrate the benefits of Complementary Therapy

-          Ask or survey your Practice staff or patients to see if they currently use any Complementary Therapies or would be open to them, have any personal recommendations for local Complementary Therapists?

-          Explain the inherent link between illness and emotion or stress to patients and consider offering supported self-care initiatives such as free talks or demonstrations for patients to learn simple tools they can use every day to manage common stress-related complaints such as pain, anxiety and digestive issues

For Complementary Therapists

-          Offer an open hour, free taster sessions or informative websites/blogs/case studies/testimonials so people can easily access your therapy and expertise

-          Provide a reduced rate for GP referrals and keep up to date with evidence-based research

-          Keep sharing the benefits of what you do and your credibility

-          When you work with a GP surgery, ask for a testimonial to share with other GP surgeries

All of us combined

-          Accept responsibility for our health - the best way to support our amazing NHS is to do everything we can to support our own health every day

-          Take advantage of the free initial consultation many Complementary Therapists offer, even if you don’t feel motivated or have the energy to make change – ask for help so you can learn how to help yourself (only use fully insured therapists listed with their associated Regulatory body)

-          Share existing self-care information with others to help patient

Let’s do this!

People are getting sick of being ill, not feeling the way they want to and the NHS doesn’t have the time or the resources to give everyone all the support they need as we are all unique.

Let’s bridge the gap and help people to maximise physical and emotional wellness through educating, supporting and empowering patients both inside and outside of the GP’s surgery. The numerous benefits of this will ripple far and wide. Especially to our amazing NHS staff who give so much every day and need to focus their limited, precious resources and energy on the illnesses that self-care cannot resolve. 

The momentum is there now and if you have any ideas on how we can keep moving forward, please get in touch with Dr Wong, Dr Akhtar or myself Lou Tassell.

 

Lou Tassell

November 2018