Our GPs are truly the proverbial unsung heroes. Trying to solve a patient’s health issues in the standard 10–15 minutes allocated for the conventional GP appointment is a huge challenge, especially when that patient sees a different doctor each time. How do I know this? As a mum of seven children, an integrative GP (ex-conventional GP), a Health and Disability Commission expert and an ex-patient, I have first-hand knowledge. But I’m not going to regurgitate the usual blurb out there, such as ‘take a list with you’. This is my integrative (aka preventative) medicine spin on how to REALLY change your health.
15 minutes is not long enough
My integrative medicine training quickly showed me that to truly turn your health around, GPs must spend much more time with you then they currently do. This seems simple, but unless you have multiple 15-minute conventional GP appointments (with the same GP), your only other option is to see a private integrative GP, who will spend 60–90 minutes going through extensive medical questionnaires. To really help you, your GP needs to know everything about your life, not just about your one symptom.
Find a GP who understands biochemical pathways
Biochemical pathways are all the processes that drive our bodies. Most GPs have had very little biochemistry training and even less training on how nutrition and environment affect these pathways. The only way to help prevent or heal diseases is to detect and treat biochemical issues. These multiple pathways all interact so if there is an issue in one pathway, it will affect all other pathways. For example, if you have issues with the energy-producing pathway, you’ll also have problems making brain chemicals. The conventional medical model of compartmentalising patients into ‘heart’, ‘gut’ or ‘brain’ issues, for example, can’t possibly provide any effective or lasting changes to your health.
Discuss important problems first
Along with untangling your biochemical pathways, there are around 30 reasons why you may have chest pain, for example. This takes time, so please discuss important problems first. The most challenging thing for your GP is the ‘hand-on-the-doorknob’ scenario. This is where you mention the chest pain that could be a heart attack after most of your 15-minute appointment has been about managing your wart.
Ask for more local lab testing than the basics
Being an independent GP, I test for more health markers than conventional GPs usually do. For example, because of the cost, GPs don’t generally check vitamin D levels unless the patient has specific conditions. This is despite the fact that low vitamin D levels have been linked to cancer, depression and low immune function.
Access specialised overseas functional testing
Ask if your GP is willing to access specialised overseas functional testing to look at things like hormonal or gut health, and chemical or heavy metal exposure like mercury, in a much more comprehensive way. If not, these are available from integrative GPs.
Be honest with your GP about medicines and complementary therapies
Tell your GP about your desire to try complementary therapies such as acupuncture and nutritional supplements/herbs. Most will be supportive and it’s important they are aware of everything you take, including over-the-counter medications, as it is possible that these could interact with any medications you are on or about to be prescribed.
Ask to see your blood test results
And ask an integrative medicine doctor to interpret them for you properly. Integrative medicine doctors interpret your blood tests results in a much more individualised way. We don’t accept the reference ranges that labs give us and we have a lower threshold for treating results like vitamin D.
An example of why we do this is a patient I saw who had hormone and gut issues and tiredness. We tested her extensively and discovered a range of slightly abnormal markers. Even more disturbing was that conventional medicine would not have done anything about these results as they would not have been considered abnormal enough! Treating slightly abnormal results is essential to integrative medicine doctors.
Be assured, much more can be done to prevent and treat disease than is offered by conventional medicine alone.