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Unlocking the Secrets of Integrative Medicine by Ava Satnick, MD

Are you frustrated with doctors who are rushed or busy and often use prescription medicine as the primary solution? If you are searching for holistic, whole-person care that is healing-oriented and patient-centered, you may be interested in a doctor specializing in integrative medicine (IM).

I maintain an integrative practice, yet I also work as a “regular doctor” in some well-intentioned facilities. Integrative medicine doctors receive the same training as traditional doctors. They then incorporate additional training in areas of interest such as traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda, meditation and mindfulness, supplements, exercise, nutrition, sleep and various other forms of therapy such as movement, yoga, music, dance and art.

Image inspired by Stanford Children's Health

What is the difference between integrative and functional medicine?

Functional medicine is a branch of integrative medicine that also requires specialized training (often through the Institute of Functional Medicine or another training group). Like IM, it also focuses on the whole person in the context of their environment and strongly emphasizes addressing the root causeof disease. While the two practice styles are similar, functional medicine doctors will usually take a deeper dive into specific laboratory testing, often analyzing hair, blood, urine and stool (sometimes in labs that are not FDA-approved, and therefore not approved by insurance). They may also interpret some of the lab results differently from conventional doctors (e.g., differing normal values for thyroid function, relying on blood tests [rather than biopsies] to diagnose H. pylori, etc.). Functional medicine doctors may also prescribe numerous supplements—often administered at the same time.

Integrative medicine builds and improves upon conventional medicine

Modern medicine has been—and always will be—lifesaving. However, it has some limitations. As an example, pain is a common complaint for patients. The traditional treatment model rules out any overt physical pathology, such as a malignancy or an inflammatory state, prescribes pain-relieving medicines and advises the patient to avoid known triggers for their pain. Sometimes, the accompanying fatigue, depression or anxiety may also be diagnosed and treated. This approach alone may be enough for some patients.

The patients who find their way to an IM specialist often prefer not to rely on medications or be told to avoid activities. Instead, they want to reach a state of healthy living through nutrition, sleep, exercise, acupuncture, natural supplements and other means, which are often outside the norms of conventional medicine. Patients can easily incorporate these practices into their lives and begin to feel better.

Patient values and interests are at the center of integrative medicine

In my practice, when I ask children and their parents the question, “If I had a magic wand and could help you with one thing in your life, what would it be?” the whole tenor of the visit changes. Patients no longer feel they are being defined by an illness but rather by what is meaningful to them in their healthy states. An IM specialist, or any doctor who understands what motivates their patients, is better able to help their patients connect the dots of their own stories, guide their treatment plans, define successful outcomes of their therapies and empower them to return to a healthy state of being.

Integrative medicine shifts the paradigm from disease to self-healing Patients seeking an IM specialist are eager to take a deep dive into understanding their pain and ailments and shift their mindset and habits to ones that promote hope, health and joyous recovery. In my practice, for instance, instead of fixating on fatigue, I ask my patients to engage in restorative or energizing activities. I encourage my patients with disordered eating to try to see foods as fun and nourishing. For others, instead of focusing on their depression, I ask what makes them sparkle and feel happy. Within a few sessions, my patients progress because they are ready to shift from a state of disease to a state of health. Integrative physicians will ask about a person’s whole life All physicians review their patient's systems, often by having them fill out a head-to-toe questionnaire that starts with “Check the box if you have experienced…” The questions concern weight loss, fatigue, pain, cough, etc. These are essential issues for doctors to know about, but an integrative physician will also review the patient’s lifestyle. My favorite way to gather information—and one that feels less like a “checkbox tool”—is to ask my patients to describe a typical day. As they walk me through their day, I hear about their sleep and dreams, what they eat, their relationships and friendships, what they do for fun, what they do to relax, their spiritual and religious practices, whether they exercise and whom they confide in. This kind of dialogue allows me to get a fuller picture of my patient and what makes them who they are. Integrative physicians spend time connecting with their patients Most initial visits with an integrative physician last 45 to 90 minutes— more than double or triple the time a conventional doctor spends with patients today. These extended visits give patients the time to tell their stories, and the physician can focus, engage and actively listen. The longer visit is arguably a highly valuable and productive use of time because the patient feels heard, the doctor learns more and they build trust, connection and rapport in the therapeutic relationship. A physical examination, laboratory recommendations and other preliminary suggestions or prescriptions may be included during this visit or postponed until the doctor collects medical records and better understands the patient. The frequency of follow-up depends on the patient. Bringing joy to practicing medicine for both doctors and patients In integrative medicine, each visit is unique and focuses on becoming healthy and centered. By exploring multiple paths to achieving health, IM brings joy to health and healing for both patients and physicians.


Ava Satnick, MD

Ava Satnick, MD, is a pediatrician and integrative medicine specialist who is passionate about studying and applying all philosophies of medicine, healing and healthy living to her practice. She helps her patients reap the benefits from all that she has learned and integrated. She completed two fellowships in Integrative Medicine from the University of Arizona Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine and, locally, at Stanford University. She holds additional certifications in lactation consulting, hypnosis, guided imagery and yoga. She recently completed a 200YTT Vinyasa flow/Bhakti immersion certification in India.

Ava treats patients (until they’re 26) and their families as they navigate conditions like anxiety, depression, ADHD, headaches, abdominal pain/nausea and IBS pain. She offers lifestyle coaching, breastfeeding guidance and more at her office, Holbrook Health in Portola Valley.

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