Out-of-pocket costs are typically higher when seeing an integrative medicine doctor than when seeing a regular allopathic doctor. It is important for the patient to understand why this is, so that they do not feel resentful or feel that the doctor is taking advantage of them in some way. In brief, there are much higher overhead costs to run an integrative medical clinic than a typical allopathic medical clinic. Patients need to know that because of this, integrative doctors generally earn much lower salaries than allopathic doctors do, despite the higher out-of-pocket per-visit cost. Be assured that we are only charging what we have to in order to keep the doors open. Doing this type of medicine is our passion – we are not in it to make the most money.
Integrative doctors typically spend considerably more time with their patients than other doctors do, which means that they can only see a few patients each day. At Optimal Health Spectrums, a typical intake appointment may be 1-2 hours of face time with the doctor, and follow-ups can be lengthy as well. The face-to-face contact with a typical allopathic doctor is generally much shorter.
Integrative medicine is more complex and approaches a patient’s medical problems at a deeper multi-factorial level than the more superficial treatment of single symptoms in an allopathic medicine visit. In other words, we try to figure out, treat, and prevent the multiple causes of an illness or symptom. Treatment plans are discussed in lengthy detail at an integrative office visit so that patients will understand them. A lot of our time is spent educating our patients about their health and wellness in integrative medicine appointments, which is time-consuming. This is rarely done in allopathic appointments.
As an example, a symptom like depression can be medically caused by many things – a chronic infection affecting the brain – such as yeast overgrowth, certain viruses, or Lyme; a deficiency of many different hormones – such as thyroid, progesterone, testosterone or estrogen; a deficiency of many nutrients – such as amino acids, vitamins, minerals or essential fatty acids; or chronic low-level exposures to toxins such as lead and mercury. What does a typical doctor do to treat depression? Ask a few questions to assess the symptoms of depression, and then prescribe an antidepressant. Despite the fact that the brain never has a deficiency of an antidepressant, this type of treatment is fast and cheap. It is more time-consuming and expensive to figure out what might be causing the problem and treat the underlying deficiencies and/or toxicities in an Integrative clinic, but it is much healthier for the patient in the long run.
It is simply a lot more costly for a doctor to run and operate an integrative health clinic than a regular private practice medical clinic. This holistic, comprehensive approach to health care requires a lot more office staff time and support, which increases overhead costs. For example, a typical check-out at a regular doctor’s office may take less than five minutes, whereas at an integrative health clinic it can take up to 30 – 60 minutes of staff time, depending on the complexity of the visit. Answering new patient phone calls here can take hours of staff time, vs. a few minutes at an allopathic office. Due to the complex nature of our care, our staff and providers field and handle many more complex patient phone calls, refills, emails, and other requests between appointments than a typical medical office does. None of that time is reimbursed.
Integrative doctors have to go to many expensive conferences to learn the latest cutting-edge information in this field. Much of what we do for our patients was not taught in our medical school or residency and therefore had to be learned on our own time and at our own expense. This is why there aren’t as many integrative doctors as other types of doctors. Medical education in this country is largely controlled by the pharmaceutical industry and they don’t like doctors treating patients in this more natural, preventative way that rarely requires pharmaceuticals.
Integrative doctors can not join HMO or preferred provider PPO plans, because this type of health care is not covered by typical insurance plans that limit the time a doctor can spend on an appointment with a patient, or the number and type of tests that a doctor can order. Insurance companies won’t cover the wellness-oriented tests and treatments that integrative doctors order. They will pay for treatment after you get sick, but not to prevent it.
Patients who receive integrative health care usually have lower health care costs in the long run because they are healthier. This can help prevent many major illnesses in the future, decrease sick days and improve level of functioning and quality of life on a daily basis. Overall, our goal is to make you as healthy and happy as possible. Most patients feel that this investment in their health and well-being is worth it.
Author Dr. Lynne Mielke Dr. Mielke takes a whole-person approach and uses specialized testing to determine the underlying cause of each person’s health condition.