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Holistic Medicine: How to Define it

By Dr. David Katz Expert HERWriter
 
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We are probably all familiar with things that are tough to define, but that we recognize when we see them. No, I'm not planning on talking about that one ...

The term I have in mind is: Holistic.

I practice holistic medicine. Specifically, for the past decade, I have directed a rather unique clinic that provides what we call "evidence-based integrative care". We have published and presented details of the model.

People tend to have a strong sense of what holistic means, whether or not they can actually define it. Detractors see it as an indication of quackery -- without looking past the label. Proponents embrace it as an emblem of virtuous humanism. Holistic is good, and all else ... less so.

But if that is really true -- if holistic care is better (I'm among those who believes it is) -- then a workable definition is important. First, so that people who want to sign up for holistic care -- to give it, or receive it -- know what they are signing up for, exactly. And second, and more importantly, because you can't practice what you can't define. Unless we can say just what holistic care is, it can't be taught, tested, replicated or improved.

The medical version of TheFreeDictionary tells us that holistic care is: "a system of comprehensive or total patient care that considers the physical, emotional, social, economic, and spiritual needs of the person; his or her response to illness; and the effect of the illness on the ability to meet self-care needs."

I am comfortable with this in theory, but not in practice. In practice, it begs the question: how, exactly, do you do that? What does considering "physical, emotional, social, economic, and spiritual needs" look like in a doctor/patient encounter? What is a clinician actually supposed to do in a room with a patient so that the care that transpires between them is holistically concordant with this definition?

Let's acknowledge that platitudes don't really help.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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