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Integrative medicine

Integrative Medicine and the Future of Pharmacy

Tuesday, December 30, 2008 by: Jeremiah Smith, PharmD
Tags: integrative medicine, health news, Natural News

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(NewsTarget) The current model of pharmacy practice, and of Western medicine as a whole, is based upon managing symptoms. In some cases, this may be necessary, at least for a limited amount of time. The problem is that care for the patient often stops with a prescription being handed over. A competent pharmacist will provide medication counseling with the goal of ensuring optimal drug therapy. Ultimately, however, the underlying cause of the symptoms is not being addressed. At this point, dispensing drugs to patients without providing further wellness education only compounds the problem. It is like giving them a crutch to rely on; patients receive false reassurance that their problem is "taken care of." And considering that most people only think about their health status when something is obviously wrong, a great opportunity for intervention and assistance with therapeutic lifestyle changes (TLCs) is missed. Thus, the patient is left with degrading health, a lack of awareness, and masked symptoms. Furthermore, drugs may produce side effects, many times resulting in additional prescriptions. Under such conditions, it isn't hard to see how a downward spiral in the patient's health might be established.

Where are we now?

Just take a quick glance at our current healthcare system. Spending is on the rise, while the country's health deteriorates. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer are epidemic. The scope of allopathic medicine is too narrow to reverse this trend on its own. It certainly has its place in the healthcare arena, most notably for acute care, as in cases of trauma. And an incredible amount of information has been discovered under its umbrella. Still, what good is the most thorough understanding of biochemistry, pharmacology, or surgical technique if millions continue to suffer from debilitating chronic disease?

You see, the strength of the allopathic model can also be its weakness, depending upon the situation to which it is applied. When used to temporarily stabilize the body, system by system, there is no better approach. It fails miserably, however, for keeping individuals disease-free over the long run. The innate healing ability of the body is too complex, and the factors that contribute to chronic disease too numerous to lend themselves to a quick fix solution.

Likewise, judging the effectiveness of natural medicine, using allopathic standards, fails to acknowledge its aggregate and superior healing ability. It's like comparing apples with oranges. These two medical philosophies are founded on distinct principles and treatment practices.

Without a more integrative model, health care will continue down a doomed path. We cannot keep doing the same thing and expect different results.

Where should we go from here?

Thoreau is known to have said that "there are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one striking at the root." Look around, and you can see those devoted to working on the root causes of chronic disease, focusing on prevention and overall wellness. Naturopathic physicians, nutritionists, educators, herbalists, and even some medical doctors and pharmacists, to name a few, represent this group of healers who hint at the possible paradigm shift in medicine.

Pharmacists, in particular, hold an excellent position for implementing positive changes. They are the first point of access to health care for the majority of Americans, owing to the accessibility and convenience of pharmacies.

The profession of pharmacy is already following a trend away from the dispensing role toward one of patient-centered care. This is partly because most aspects of dispensing can now be accomplished by automated equipment or technicians. Why would a company want to dish out high salaries for a job that can be done by a robot, especially when robots don't make mistakes?

Compensation no longer depends entirely upon filling as many prescriptions as possible. It also comes from functioning as a consultant, as an information expert, and as an educator. So, why not take one more step forward and continue this trend? Pharmacy services could promote wellness and optimal outcomes, not just optimal medication usage. Pharmacists have an opportunity to push the envelope, serving as genuine patient advocates, while securing their future as indispensable healthcare providers.

Integrative pharmacies offer a glimpse of hope for the future of health care. These are centers of wellness, rather than centers of disease. Here, conventional and complementary medicine go hand in hand. Typical employees include naturopaths, nutritionists, nurses, massage therapists and aestheticians, as well as pharmacists. Education is highly emphasized, with classroom lectures and workshops being a normal part of services. Many topics are covered including smoking cessation, weight reduction, yoga instruction, and management of various disease states. Nutritional supplements and herbal products are as commonplace as prescription drugs.

Impressive business models for such an operation already exist. For example, Elephant is a pharmacy that originated in Berkeley, California and continues to grow in the San Francisco area. Pharmaca is another integrative pharmacy that has locations throughout the Western United States.


Isaacs, Nora. "The New Pharmacy." Natural Health, April 2004.

Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy

Elephant Pharmacy

About the author

Jeremiah Smith is a licensed and practicing pharmacist with a strong interest in nutrition and natural medicine. He is driven by a thirst for knowledge and a passion for helping others achieve optimal health. Smith writes articles on a range of topics related to wellness. You can visit his website at (http://www.anewvision.info/)

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