How to find an integrative medicine doctor
Updated: Feb 14
The question of how to find a good doctor has never been straightforward. It’s not like going to a restaurant, where we now have ubiquitous online ratings systems, dozens of guides, and whole professions—even whole shows—dedicated to finding, reviewing, and telling people about which restaurants you should go to.
If you then ask the question of how to find an integrative medicine doctor, the answers don’t suddenly get any easier.
Yet finding a good doctor, usually a primary care physician, is such an important part of your health and wellness. We have studies that show that patients who trust their doctors report healthier behavior and better outcomes—so we know trust is important.
I practiced emergency medicine for thirty years. In the ER, we usually don’t know the patients who come in. We have very little time to establish trust so that we can get an accurate medical history. That short time we have with patients usually means we have to take on faith that the person we’re seeing will follow our recommendations once they leave the ER, whether that’s medicine we prescribe or a behavioral change we recommend.
Sadly, primary care physicians can be under just as much time pressure as I was in the ER. Today’s family or internal medicine physicians have thousands of patients who they hope to see maybe once a year for twenty or thirty minutes.
I started Dignity Integrative in part to change the nature of that relationship to one that works more like a partnership over time. I think any integrative medicine physician who can check in with their patients on a monthly basis to see how they’re doing and adjust their care as needed will have a much better chance of helping people to better health than the traditional ways our healthcare system has been throughout my life.
So, we know doctor-patient relationships built on trust lead to better outcomes. And, we know that the integrative medicine model provides a better opportunity for us to build that trust. But the challenge remains: how to find an integrative medicine physician?
Word of mouth
Traditionally, a lot of us look for a doctor the same way we look for any trusted, very important professional: through word of mouth. Just as we ask our friends and colleagues if they know a good lawyer or accountant, we usually default to word of mouth in our search for a good doctor.
My first few patients also came through word of mouth and awareness through social media.
But of course, this is the Internet age, which means there are online resources for how to find physicians, including how to find an integrative medicine physician.
The Institute for Functional Medicine Directory
Maybe one of the most well-known places to look for an integrative medicine physician is the directory run by the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM).
You can search by city, state, and zip code, and include a radius around the search.
Unfortunately, the IFM database comes with a catch: it only lists integrative medicine practitioners who have trained at IFM. Which leaves out a vast universe of integrative medicine providers! For example, I did my fellowship through the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine.
American College for the Advancement of Medicine (ACAM)
The American College for the Advancement of Medicine also has a directory search. ACAM is a nonprofit dedicated to the advancement of integrative medicine. They offer education and training for integrative medicine practitioners throughout the country.
Yet their directory is also limited to membership, which means it’s limited overall: a search for integrative medicine practitioners in Rockville, MD (where my office is located) only showed five options.
We’re still a long way away from being able to search for doctors like we search for restaurants—but that doesn’t mean Google’s not trying!
Google may be a big tech company with enormous market power, but there’s also something quite democratic about how Google handles search: open to everyone with an internet connection and designed to deliver as much useful, relevant information as possible.
So, Google Maps is a good place to start if you’re looking for integrative medicine physicians near you. We tried it for where Dignity Integrative is located in Rockville, MD, and we got a lot more than five choices. We circled Dignity Integrative to make it easy to find 😉:
Still: once you've done the Google search, how do you choose between all the great options?
Just as you can review almost anything these days, you can review Integrative Medicine practices as well, which is something none of the directories above allow you to do (Spoiler alert: all the Rockville integrative medicine physicians are all highly rated, so I’m in good company).
Big centers vs. independent integrative medicine clinics
Another question is whether you want to go to an integrative medicine office within a big medical center, or work with an independent clinic such as my own.
I can tell you from having worked most of my career within big centers: if they are advertising an integrative medicine practice, they are doing it because they are trying to market to the public in general—it doesn't necessarily mean they are doing it well.
In fact, when I first started my integrative medicine practice, I called around to local hospitals to research what they were doing with integrative medicine. One of the local hospitals in Olney, MD, near my office, told me their integrative medicine physician had left to go work somewhere else—even though they were still advertising integrative medicine services.
Larger hospitals like the concept of integrative medicine, and healthcare leaders may be very supportive in theory. But hospitals are usually not earning money from the practice—it's just not a model that works well within a traditional hospital setting (the caveat to this is if you are at a small handful of leading centers in the country, such as the Cleveland Clinic, which has the time and resources to really create a comprehensive, industry-leading service).
Individual treatments vs. holistic approaches
Another thing you will notice if you Google, for example, "integrative medicine near me" is that some options will be focused on individual services, such as acupuncture or sleep counseling, while others will be general integrative or alternative medicine doctors (or naturopaths or functional medicine doctors).
Obviously, if you already are well into your journey and know that you want acupuncture, then go straight there. Google categorizes a lot of different services under the integrative medicine umbrella. A search in the areas around Rockville (which includes Gaithersburg, Bethesda, and Germantown) turns up a few acupuncturists, a pain management clinic, and sleep specialists.
If, on the other hand, you are at the beginning of your journey, or are looking for an alternative approach to chronic health problems, you probably want to go to a general integrative physician such as myself. My clinic focuses on four pillars of health: sleep, nutrition, movement, and mental resiliency. My practice also partners patients with a health & nutrition coach, but if I think there are more specific treatments which are recommended, then I will refer you to a specialist service such as the ones listed above.
Process & Cost
Finally, before you choose an integrative medicine doctor you should ask what their process is, and of course what the fees are. Do they slot you into a pre-determined path? Is the practice like a menu with a list of services that you choose from?
Or, like Dignity Integrative, do they start from a place of openness and general inquiry, and come up with a custom plan to begin to improve your overall health and wellness, and address chronic problems?
We've created a roadmap that explains our approach here.