Health Care Providers Should Counsel Patients on Integrative Medicine Strategies

Study suggests that health care providers should discuss with patients whether they are using any integrative medicine strategies, which ones, and why.

Nearly 40% of older individuals currently use at least 1 integrative medicine strategy to ease symptoms of physical health, mental health, or to help them relax, according to the results of a new poll from the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging.

Integrative medicine strategies include chiropractic care, massage therapy, meditation, yoga, or other non-conventional options. About 38% of individuals found it beneficial and another 54% said it was somewhat beneficial.

The results of the poll showed that women and individuals aged 50 to 64 years were more likely to use these strategies than men or those aged 60 to 80 years.

However, the findings also showed that 18% of older individuals who currently, formerly, or are interested in integrative health strategies have discussed this with their health care provider.

“As research continues to show the importance of the mind-body connection in health, and as more rigorous studies are done to determine what effects integrative strategies can have on various conditions, it’s important for patients and providers to keep the lines of communication open,” Rachael Maciasz, MD, a general internal medicine physician at Michigan Medicine and the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, said in a statement.

The results suggest that primary care physicians should discuss with patients whether they are using any integrative medicine strategies, which ones, and why. The findings also emphasize the insurance and cost-related issues related to accessing these strategies because health care plans offer different levels of coverage for integrative medicine.

Among older individuals who have used or are interested in these strategies, 15% say their health insurance covers it, 19% said they have no coverage, and two-thirds said they were not sure whether they have coverage. Among those who do not have coverage or were unsure about their coverage, 84% said they would be likely to try these approaches if they had healthy insurance coverage for them.

Of individuals who stopped using integrative health strategies, approximately one-quarter said that cost was among their reasons to discontinue these strategies. Nearly all poll respondents said that they believe their mind impacts health, with 82% saying it has a major impact and 14% saying it had a minor impact.

“Patients whose doctors talked with them about lifestyle factors were more likely to have used integrative medicine strategies. Educating physicians and encouraging patients to communicate about evidence-informed integrative modalities could lead to a larger toolbox for treating and preventing illness and supporting health and wellness,” Maciasz said in the statement.

Older individuals in the poll who currently use or previously used these strategies said they used it to treat or prevent pain, insomnia, digestive issues, to relax or manage stress, to address an acute physical injury, and/or to improve their mental health, including depression and anxiety.

Primary care physicians help patients approach these conditions through lifestyle counseling, prescribing medication, or making referrals to specialty care, so they should also know what their patients are doing on their own, the investigators of the poll said.

Reference

Many older adults look beyond conventional medicine for help, but few talk to their doctors about it. News release. EurekAlert. July 26, 2022. Accessed July 26, 2022. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/959646