Integrated Medicine

posted: by: Haw Creek Animal Hospital Tags: "Clinic Specials" "News" 

"Alternative medicine." "Holistic medicine." "Western medicine." "Complementary medicine." What's the difference? Is there a difference? Our take on the subject? "Integrated medicine" combines the best of all of approaches.

Dr. Sinclair practices "Integrated Holistic" medicine. Integrated because she combines Western and Alternative modalities, Holistic because she uses a whole-animal, whole cure philosophy.

Integrated medicine, to some degree, can involve both Eastern and Western thought; combining different ideas (modalities) together to produce a result. This is similar, in many ways, to "complimentary medicine" (see below). But complimentary makes us think of modalities while integrative suggests a more dynamic interaction between the approaches. Integrated also goes along with "holistic" (also discussed below) where the integration is more at the level of remedies acting in concert to effect a whole-body cure.

Sometimes the integrated approach is as simple as using just a couple of modalities for a relatively straightforward problem Other cases, most notably geriatrics, can involve many interconnected problems that require several different approaches and modalities. This implies that a knowledge of many modalities is needed, some being used in a curative mode while others are used primarily for support.

In practice the integrated approach is different from the "research" that drives the development of many modalities. Combining different modalities in parallel often gives us the desired response; but it's difficult to know which modality is leading to which part or portion of that response. We'd like to know, but in general practice that's often just not possible. Most people don't want their animals in double-blind studies, they want something that works!

And that works within the confines of their budget! Integrative medicine also opens up the possibility of picking modalities that fit within a budget: when a client wants us to "pull out all the stops" on a complex case we might use all our Western diagnostic tools, some surgical intervention, pharmaceuticals, and nutraceutical and homeopathic support, while budgetary or philosophical constraints might lead us to treat that same case with acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and dietary supplementation.

Occasionally you'll hear "traditional" used to mean the kind of medicine you'd expect to find at the local regional hospital, and then you'll hear the same word used to describe ancient Eastern methods. So we'll try to avoid that confusion by referring to the former as "Western" or "conventional" medicine and to the latter as "alternative."

Still room for all manner of misconceptions, so what do we mean by conventional medicine?

Western, or conventional, medicine is the most commonly used form of medicine practiced by veterinarians in the United States, and a frequently used modality here at Haw Creek Animal Hospital. All patients seen at Haw Creek Animal Hospital receive a workup that includes a physical exam and any applicable "Western medicine" diagnostics. Conventional diagnostics at Haw Creek Animal Hospital and include X-ray imaging, blood chemistry, urinalysis, CBC, ELISA testing, endocrine analysis, microscopy, histopathology, and a host of other tools and techniques that take us beyond what our unaided senses can detect and identify.

Western medicine also uses soft tissue surgery to remove or correct problems, orthopedics to assist bone healing, antibiotics to combat infection, anti inflammatories and steroids to control the body's runaway responses to insult, analgesics to control pain, and a vast array of pharmaceuticals for specific problems such as hypertension and epilepsy.

Many veterinarians (and indeed physicians) work solely from this "conventional Western" toolkit, finding it adequate for most of their needs. But we too often see articles in the news that describe how more and more people are turning to alternative therapies when the Western approach fails them.


Most people say "holistic" when they really mean "alternative." Holistic refers to "looking at the whole" while alternative usually means "non-Western." Practicing holistically requires the veterinarian to develop a whole-body mindset; "What is the "big picture" and how does each isolated and observable symptom reflect whole body dis-ease? So instead or diagnosing--and treating--this symptom and then diagnosing--and treating--that symptom in isolation, the holistic approach asks "What are these symptoms telling me in concert? What is the underlying cause? And how do we treat that?"

The holistic approach also refers to the treatment as well as to the disease. Looking at all available modalities and employing them in combination will likely be more successful than the usual approach of "a remedy for each symptom." The physical exam may also go far beyond the immediate symptoms and take into account other factors such as lifestyle and nutrition. Changes to these may be necessary for a whole body cure.

Alternative medicine uses any modality that's an alternative to conventional Western medicine and thought. We often think of these modalities as being "Eastern" in nature, but some, such as herbs and homeopathy, derive as much from Western sources.

There is a huge gamut of alternative medicines. Some have been "scientifically validated" while others are not easily studied with a Western "hypothesis and proof" approach. All have their champions, as well as their nay-sayers, and through personal philosophy, experience, or education each of us has a sense of which we trust

Modalities we often use or recommend at Haw Creek Animal Hospital include
Bach flower essences
Nutraceutical/supplement use
Traditional Chinese herbs
Western herbs and botanical (plant-based) medicine.

Complimentary medicine is a final "catch-all" to describe things that don't really fall into Eastern or Western or Conventional or Alternative descriptions. By Complimentary we mean any modality or any change that will compliment or fit in well with a diagnosis or treatment.

These "additional" aspects to a holistic cure may include nutritional supplements, (nutraceuticals) and herbs and botanical remedies as well as modalities such as massage and physical therapy. So the complimentary component of a cure could fall completely outside of the disease being treated, when, for example, an ongoing process to tweak and refine an animal's diet and supplements is used to improve overall health in addition to modalities being used to treat a specific problem. Or the complimentary component of a cure could fall more towards the integrative end of the spectrum, using some combination of nurtraceuticals, antioxidants, or homeopathy, to enhance the immune system in a post-surgical patient--again in addition to modalities being used to effect other aspects of the cure.

Use of "complimentary" is, therefore, somewhat context dependent. One case may require physical therapy as the primary cure, while a different case may use physical therapy as an additional supportive modality. When viewed from this perspective, many if not most physicians and veterinarians can be said to practice some form of complimentary medicine.