Looking Beyond Prescription Medications with Integrative Medicine


The Nontraditional Pharmacist podcast presents a discussion about pharmacists practicing integrative medicine and touch on the business implications of integrative medicine in the future.

Pharmacists practicing integrative medicine do not transition from the role of the pharmacist but rather expand it. In a podcast interview with The Nontraditional Pharmacist, Pam Tarlow, PharmD and Swathi Varanasi, PharmD discuss with the importance of other modalities of health and touch on the business implications of integrative medicine in the future. Lynn Switaj, PharmD, moderates the discussion.

Lynn Switaj, PharmD: Can you give an overview of integrative medicine?

Swathi Varanasi, PharmD: So the way I see integrative health and integrative medicine is a multi-modality approach. It’s conventional pharmacotherapy, so prescription medications that you’d normally think of, but plus other modalities of health. That could be through natural products, dietary supplements, meditation, homeopath homeopathy, all those different possibilities to help the patient. And the way that we have talked about it also is that it really centers around a patient-centered, shared decision-making model. And so that’s working one on one with the patient to make a decision that’s best for them.

Lynn Switaj, PharmD: Tell me a little bit about your specific role.

Pam Tarlow, PharmD: Both of us are in some shared roles and some different roles. But I think the way Swathi explained it before is really that we have embraced and learned and utilize other strategies other than just pharmacotherapeutics. And so some of our work is 1-on-1 with patients at a pharmacy. Sometimes it’s direct consultation with people outside of the pharmacy. There’s educational different components clinic or we’re both involved in some clinic, lots of education. So it really varies, but it kind of boils down to the question: what can I use with my medications? Or what would be harmful if I took it with my medications? Do I choose this or that, or can I take them both? And then, also when a situation comes up that a particular patient either can’t or won’t take a certain kind of medication. We see both. Sometimes they can’t because of risk factors or other factors, availability factors, or sometimes they just don’t want to. And their doctor has told them as long as they get symptom relief or their biomarkers improve, then they can try things outside the box a little. And so we’re there for that. Not saying that this is the 1 way to do it, but hearing the patient’s story or in some cases the clinicians talking about the patients to us and then providing certain options, showing advantages, disadvantages, etc.

Lynn Switaj, PharmD: What advice would you give to somebody looking to pursue a similar role?

Swathi Varanasi, PharmD: I would say there are so many great resources, whether we’re talking about podcasts, whether we’re talking about various free newsletters that you can get from different websites that we can link for you if you’d like or put them in your caption. There are so many great opportunities to learn. So I think just even starting there with just like trying to feed your interest in that way. But then the other thing that I think is so important is networking. And so I would say, like anyone, no matter if they’re like a first-year pharmacy student or a pharmacist that’s been working for however many years. Everyone should have a LinkedIn [account] or some sort of method to network with other people, because I think when you speak to other people about what they’re doing and anything that they’re interested in, you can feel that passion and actually really get a better understanding of what that field is. So I think that if people connected with us, for example, we could talk about our experience more. But there are plenty of other people doing amazing things and you just have to find them through networking.

Lynn Switaj, PharmD: And for pharmacists looking to transition, what advice would you give to a currently practicing pharmacist?

Pam Tarlow, PharmD: It’s that it is more of an expansion rather than a transition, because I don’t leave anything behind that I learned in pharmacy school or in a conventional practice. I just add on to it and look to see what my patients are taking. So I’m always listening to my patients, always. And when they ask about supplement A, or homeopathic medicine B, or nutritional strategy C, I’m always thinking about that in the way I think about anything. Who would be harmed by it? Who might be helped by it? What’s the benefit to the risk? Is there solid evidence? This is straight pharmacy, so there’s no transition out of that. It’s just opening up to really the way the body is able to maintain its own resilience and its own homeostasis. And that’s what nutritional products and homeopathic medicines can offer, that pharmaceutical medicines can’t really. As wonderful as they are for certain conditions once they’ve gotten to a certain point. That’s what the message I would really like to say. It also depends on why a pharmacist or traditional pharmacist might want to make this expansion. There could be business reasons. They could want to expand into the cannabis medicine market so that patients can come to them for certain products depending on what state they’re in. And that’s really blossomed in this year, and what Swathi and I have been working together on.

Editor's Note: The transcript is a summary of the interview. View the video for the full interview.


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