Over the course of history, human beings have found countless ways to care for ourselves or one another. The most common method of care in the modern world is Western medicine, which involves evidence-based inquiry, examination, diagnosis and treatment of symptoms. Conversely, Eastern medicine, which originated in Asia, focuses on treating the whole person and not just the symptom.
This begs the question – can different schools of medicine coexist and complement one another? After all, at their core, they both ultimately strive to heal.
Although Western medicine is typically the first port of call in developed countries, the receptiveness towards non-Western medicine may be more prevalent than we think. One survey found 80% of Singaporeans had used complementary and alternative medicine in the past 12 months, with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) being the most widely used form, followed by Traditional Malay and Indian Medicine. This includes therapies such as acupuncture, cupping, and herbal remedies for TCM; ritual-based therapy, physiological treatments, plant, animal and mineral-derived medicine, and jamu for Traditional Malay Medicine; and other medicinal and nutritional supplements as part of Ayurveda and Traditional Indian Medicine.
But despite this prevalent usage, there is still a lot of misunderstanding about the full scope and potential of non-Western treatments. When the term “complementary, integrative or alternative medicine” is mentioned, what comes to mind, and how familiar are Singaporeans with this discipline?
Defining complementary, integrative and alternative medicine
Complementary medicine is a broad term used to describe treatment received together with traditional medical approaches – such as meditation, yoga or music therapy. Alternative medicine, on the other hand, is an approach that is used instead of Western medicine, and is not always based on medical science.
Integrative medicine is slightly different – it considers health holistically and does not limit therapy to specific organs or diseases. Instead, it focuses on physical, mental, emotional and social aspects in a coordinated and evidence-based way. Examples include natural remedies (diet therapy, herbal supplements), mind-body practices and physical therapy. By marrying Western and complementary medicine, it combines the treatment of diseases with overall healing to maximise wellbeing.
Can Singapore have the best of both worlds?
Singapore is an ageing population, defined by increasing frailty, prevalence of chronic conditions and poor lifestyle habits. According to Singapore’s 2020 National Population Health Survey,
between 2017 and 2020, the proportion of Singaporeans with high blood pressure increased from about 2 in 10, to 3 in 10, while those with high cholesterol rose from about 3 in 10 to 4 in 10. While there are a multitude of health issues that need to be addressed across the country, we believe that there is a place for both traditional medical science and complementary medicine to address these.
In 2021, we launched @The Integrative Medical Centre by The Iron Suites with the mission to show Singaporeans that your healthcare and general wellbeing can be supported through the best of both worlds. We believe that the mind, body and soul are best cared for through holistically evaluating medical history and lifestyle habits. We also believe that, as much as possible, healthcare must allow general practitioners, clinics and community hospitals to play larger roles in preventive and day-to-day care - which ultimately means less costs and greater accessibility to multidisciplinary care. It’s not about just focusing on treatment (although, we do this, too!) but equally prioritising prevention and health optimisation through our multidisciplinary team of health experts across medical services, dietetics, osteopathy, naturopathy, physiotherapy, mindfulness and more.
Going further, together
Our belief in the power of collaborative care is apparent via our team, where each member is cross-trained in various specialties. By bringing together a group of medical, allied health and integrative health experts, there is an option for care to suit all different needs.
For example, our Medical Director is Dr @Dheeraj Khiatani, who is a general practitioner with years of experience in various specialties - but who also has a keen clinical interest in the areas of nutritional, lifestyle and aesthetic medicine. While he has an active interest in research and has travelled the world to speak on topics such as the management of diabetes in expectant mothers and iron deficiency, he also believes in an integrative and holistic management of health for his patients.
Dr Khiatani recounts one story involving a patient who presented with foot numbness and difficulty walking, that had become so painful she had hardly left the house for five years. But via in-depth consultation and tailored blood tests, it was discovered she had a Vitamin B12 and iron deficiency and giddiness due to an inner-ear disorder. She was ultimately managed with an IV iron infusion and B12 injections, dietary advice and referral to a physiotherapist specialising in vestibular rehabilitation, and today is mostly symptom-free and enjoys a full life.
“This patient only received effective treatment via thorough consultation to determine the root cause of her symptoms. It was through the coming together of allied health professionals to offer professional input, that the team could properly care for the patient and return her life to her,” he says.
Similarly, our Family Physician @Dr Mythili Pandi - who specialises in nutritional health, breastfeeding medicine, women’s health and childhood development - has forged her medical career in Obstetrics & Gynaecology and Occupational and Family Medicine.
“I practice medicine by providing information and allowing the body to heal by offering the resources and the “raw materials” needed. Medications and surgical methods have their place for patients who are unwell - but the vast majority of us are not unwell, we are just not performing at our peak. By tweaking a couple of nutrients and lifestyle measures, we can bring about a huge change in how our bodies perform,” she shares.
Ultimately, at the heart of integrative care is a collaborative spirit – collaboration among care providers and collaboration with patients.
We need to have open conversations with our carers, conventional or otherwise, to discuss our history, diagnosis and treatment options, as this is the only way to make informed decisions about our journey of care.
To experience the power of integrative care, you may reach out to INMED at https://www.theintegrativemedicalcentre.com/contact and find out more.