A holistic perspective in healthcare acknowledges the overlap and connectedness of various aspects of health. This includes the interaction and culmination of physical, mental, spiritual, and environmental factors. In considering the whole patient, and not just their disease, a holistic perspective allows for comprehensive care of the individual to optimise all aspects of their well-being. This approach extends beyond individualistic gain and seeks to examine the ramifications of their care for the healthcare community and natural environment. This essay will explore how a holistic approach in medicine can benefit practitioners, patients, and the planet – symbiotically and simultaneously.
Benefits for Healthcare Practitioners
A holistic approach affords medical practitioners several potential benefits and avenues for professional and personal development. Adapting a holistic approach in patient care would allow doctors to deepen their understanding of healthcare, reduce their patient burden through innovative methods and improve professional and patient-provider relationships.
Doctors are always seeking to expand their base of knowledge in medicine, with continuous professional development being a core tenet of any medical career. One such way of achieving this is by broadening their comprehensive knowledge base to consider additional methods of holistic medical prevention and treatment in their medical care plans. The current general practitioner (GP) modus operandi allows a mere 10-15 minute consultation per patient, with a focussed, reactive care plan. Embracing holistic care principles would require the remodelling of this to a dual-focus proactive and reactive approach, incorporating complementary and alternative therapies into their practice toolkit. In doing so, practitioners gain an opportunity to discover new areas of interest, new opportunities for professional development and specialisation, and the likelihood of increased job satisfaction. It also develops a practitioners’ inclusivity and versatility, forcing them to improve their adaptability to new ideas in an ever-changing healthcare environment.
In integrating holistic practices, medical practitioners have the potential to improve their patient care burden through additional innovative methods of care. Increasing emphasis on preventative measures, lifestyle intervention and educating on the negative health effects poor stress-management has on some functional diseases can promote health optimisation for patients. Shifting the focus towards personalised wellness plans, nutrition, exercise, and mental healthcare in a holistic manner will ultimately lead to decreased hospitalisations, complications, and duration of chronic disease. Early intervention in younger patients can reduce this chronic disease burden even more. Through empowering patients to collaborate more in their own health maintenance doctors can reduce their patient workload, reducing doctor stress and burnout rates while also improving preventative healthcare for patients. Increased patient involvement and education can also lead to better health outcomes overall.
A holistic approach in medical care stands to benefit and improve practitioners’ interdisciplinary and doctor-patient relationships. A healthcare professional cannot carry out full, comprehensive holistic medical care alone, in the face of current worker shortages and long waiting lists. As a result, doctors and nurses alike will need to diversify and increase their interdisciplinary collaboration and networking. Increased work with nutritionists, psychologists, therapists, and alternative treatment providers allows for professional network expansion, and an improved culture of knowledge-sharing.
In considering the whole person, under the biopsychosocial model, practitioners stand to improve their communication skills, especially when explaining and investigating aspects of holistic care patients are unfamiliar with.
A holistic approach is a valuable way of demonstrating to the patient that the practitioner truly cares about the patient in a multi-dimensional, detailed, holistic manner. This is a valuable tool in improving the doctor-patient experience, increasing trust and confidence within the relationship and improving job satisfaction.
Benefits for Patients
A holistic perspective in medical care can improve patient experience exponentially. In holistic medicine, a patient-centric approach is first and foremost, with improved health outcomes, cultural and belief-system diversity, and inclusion among other notable benefits.
In holistic approaches, patients can feel increasingly heard and considered as they receive care that prioritises all aspects of their mental, physical, and spiritual health. Patients can receive care that aligns with their specific goals, values, and lifestyle through tailored holistic care plans. This aspect of patient autonomy and shared decision-making model can instil a sense of self-empowerment in patients that improves care-plan adherence and outcomes.
The interim involvement of more healthcare affiliated professionals such as acupuncturists, physical therapists and mindfulness or yoga coaches can further help individuals disillusioned with long waiting times for hospital-based specialists. The extra consideration for mind-body connectedness in holistic medicine is pertinent to many functional conditions such as the increasingly common IBS, where holistic nutritional and psychological interventions are the mainstay of treatment.
By integrating emotional and spiritual well-being into medical care approaches, patients can strengthen their resilience, coping strategies and adaptability skillset. This is a significant advantage for patients to have at their disposal in the face of any health-related adversity.
Holistic medical perspectives also allow for patients who may come from backgrounds that prioritise traditional Eastern medicine to feel as though they have a safe space to discuss their wishes. Often the fear of being ostracised, disrespected or dismissed can cause anxiety for individuals from seeking medical treatment in these cases. By removing this barrier to discussion holistically driven medical care can improve inclusivity and approachability of care for patients that fall into these cohorts.
Benefits for the Planet
A holistic approach in medicine extends beyond individual benefit, and seeks to consider the local, environmental and global impact of healthcare. Focussing on waste and energy reduction, environmental conservation and eco-friendly alternatives in the medical setting is an important part of responsible practice, and one that can be improved by adopting a holistic perspective.
Holistic medicine principles include considering the far-reaching impact of our interventions. Employing that perspective in practice can spur on more proactive environmental changes in the medical setting, such as telehealth service use, reducing energy and disposable item use – where safe and practical.
Holistic medical care often looks after the needs of marginalised or minority communities, those most affected by the devastating effects of climate change. The holistic perspective emphasises a sense of community and interconnectedness, which could be harnessed to collectively advocate for these poorer communities in the wake of environmental destruction. Through initiation in local medical practices, grass roots initiatives could culminate in impactful changes over time, such as environmental advocacy groups.
Environmental focus can furthermore be the forefront of some aspects of some forms of supplementary holistic therapies. Ecotherapy, a form of therapy emphasising connecting with nature, has reported benefits of stress reduction, mood improvement, and physical health benefits through outdoor activities. This centring of nature and the environment in holistic care further helps foster a sense of environmental guardianship and nature appreciation in individuals.
The integration of holistic perspectives into medical research and innovation could ultimately promote diverse ways of thinking and expand the scope of research. Investigating the benefit, safety and comparative efficacy of non-pharmaceutical holistic supplementary therapies could provide further avenues for reducing the industrial waste and energy consumption contributions of Western medicine.
In conclusion, a holistic perspective in medicine stands to benefit healthcare practitioners, patients and the planet as stakeholders in a combined medical care model. A holistic perspective is advantageous in promoting improved healthcare relationships, patient autonomy and empowerment and more comprehensive, inclusive care. Furthermore, a holistic approach can contribute to community engagement and action in environmental conservation and eco-conscious practices. Through adaptation of a more holistic viewpoint, the national healthcare system stands to become a more socially responsible, patient-centred and compassionate organisation, something that can only benefit its patients.