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Why “Whole Health” Needs to be Patient-centered, Driven and Led

Whole Health Whole Health
Longevity By Nature

The INM (Institute for Natural Medicine) Board of Directors recently met for a retreat on Vashon Island, WA. During the meeting, board and staff discussed a cultural shift that we would like to see in North America and how INM can help catalyze it. The shift we would like to see is that health care becomes truly patient-centered.

The discussion of whole health emerged in the U.S., with the National Academy of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) issuing a report entitled “Transforming Healthcare to Create Whole Health: Strategies to Assess, Scale, and Spread the Whole Person Approach to Health.”

There is also increasing interest and awareness about Whole Health at the Veterans Administration (VA). The VA has been growing their whole health program for five years with 18 centers across the US. One might think we are farther along than we truly are!

In the whole health discussion, we see a wonderful and much-needed expansion to what can be included in health care that helps improve patients’ lives. So far, this includes referral mechanisms for massage, acupuncture, meditation, yoga and other modalities that help bring in mind-body therapies or otherwise address determinants of health. The model, however, is still practiced with a conventional MD-centric approach, making integrating with other “systems” of medicine difficult. Examples of other systems, some thousands of years old, include ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine, naturopathic medicine and even functional medicine. Each approach is a whole system with diagnosis and treatment inherent in the practice. These are not providers that one easily refers to deliver a single modality. Sometimes, that is the case, but that is not the real value proposition of these systems. This presents a challenge for the conventional system. How do we solve this?

Why Patient-centered?

Patient-centered medicine is a health care approach that places patients at the heart of all decision-making processes, emphasizing their unique needs, preferences and values. Patient-centered medicine empowers patients to participate in their health care decisions actively. Decisions might include which style or system of medicine most resonates with them.

This model of care, which values shared decision-making and individualized treatment plans, could transform the health care landscape in numerous ways, making a profound difference in the quality and effectiveness of health care delivery.

• Patients who feel heard, respected and involved in their care are more likely to report higher satisfaction levels with their health care experiences. This improved patient satisfaction has far-reaching benefits, such as increased patient compliance, better patient-provider relationships, and a better likelihood of ongoing engagement with health care services.

• Patient-centered medicine also promotes inclusivity and ensures that health care services are accessible and responsive to diverse patient populations. By recognizing the unique needs of different individuals and communities, this approach helps reduce health care disparities and improves access to care, ultimately making a difference in public health outcomes.

• In a patient-centered model, patients become active partners in their health care journeys. This empowerment leads to greater health literacy, fostering better self-management, disease prevention and overall well-being. As patients learn more and gain confidence, they’re more equipped to take control of their health and make informed decisions.

• Effective communication is at the core of patient-centered medicine. Patient-provider communication leads to fewer medical errors, better adherence to treatment plans, and greater patient trust in health care providers.

As a naturopathic doctor, I believe that naturopathic medicine could be considered an ideal patient-centered profession because it prioritizes the patient’s unique needs, values and preferences and takes a holistic and comprehensive approach to health care. By focusing on individualized treatment plans, patient education, and whole person healing, naturopathic medicine empowers patients to participate actively in their health care and promotes long-term well-being. Related to this topic, I partnered with David Katz, MD on an article entitled “Paradigm Shift in Medicine: Integrating Naturopathic Care in the Treatment of Chronic Disease: Want to Follow best practices in chronic disease treatment? Look to naturopathic physicians.”

Patient-centered medicine is a transformative force in health care, fundamentally altering how patients are treated and engaged in their care. It can help create a system in which Whole Health can be realized. By prioritizing individual needs, preferences and values, this approach not only enhances the quality of care and patient satisfaction but also addresses health care disparities, empowers patients and fosters cost-efficient health care delivery. The shift toward patient-centered medicine is not merely a trend but a necessary evolution in health care that promises to make lasting and positive differences in the well-being of individuals, communities, and the health care system. It places the patient where they belong—at the center of their health care journey. Look for more information from INM plans to help make this happen in the coming months.

Michelle Simon, PhD, ND President & CEO, Institute for Natural Medicine
In 1992, the leadership core of naturopathic doctors established the Institute for Natural Medicine (INM) as a not for profit organization dedicated to advancing natural medicine. The purpose of the INM is to increase awareness of, broaden public access to, and encourage research about natural medicine and therapies. Among its milestones the INM counts the launch of the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (AANMC) as an independent organization, leading California’s efforts to obtain licensure, developing an interactive childhood education program focused on healthy eating and lifestyles called Naturally Well in 2017, and expanding residency access by establishing and funding a residency program in 2018. INM has joined forces with the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), serving as the charitable arm, to deepen access to naturopathic care, public education and research. Dr. Michelle Simon serves as president and CEO of INM, is a licensed naturopathic physician, clinician, educator and leader in many organizations dedicated to improving the quality and delivery of health care. In addition to holding a naturopathic doctorate from Bastyr University, she also holds a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Simon has served on the boards for the Integrative Healthcare Policy Consortium (IHPC), the AANP and the Naturopathic Physicians Research Institute (NPRI). Dr. Simon also served nine years on the Washington State Health Technology Clinical Committee which is part of the Health Technology Assessment program that examines the scientific evidentiary basis for efficacy, safety and cost effectiveness of health care technologies. She was also an invited participant for health care economics at “Summit on Integrative Medicine and the Health of the Public” at the Institute for Medicine (IOM) in 2009. Dr. Simon was recognized as the 2018 Physician of the Year by the AANP. Twitter: #inaturemed Facebook: @INMWeAreNaturalMedicine