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In many ways, the primary duties of holistic physicians are much like those of allopathic physicians (conventional doctors). They care for the sick and injured and counsel patients on preventive health care. They take medical histories, examine patients, and diagnose illnesses. Holistic physicians also prescribe and perform diagnostic tests and prescribe medications. They may refer patients to specialists and other health care providers as needed. They use conventional drugs and surgery when less invasive approaches are not appropriate or effective.
An important difference between the practices of allopathic physicians and holistic physicians is the approach to the patient-doctor relationship. Holistic doctors work in partnership with their patients. To establish a partnership relationship, holistic practitioners usually spend more time with their clients than allopathic doctors do. The initial visit for an allopathic practitioner is usually 20 to 30 minutes; holistic doctors usually spend 45 minutes to an hour or more on an initial visit. For conventional physicians, most follow-up visits average seven to 10 minutes, while holistic practitioners take 30 to 45 minutes for the same visits.
During the initial history and physical, holistic physicians ask questions about all aspects of a person's life—not just the immediate symptoms of illness. If holistic practitioners are trained in homeopathy, the interview will be particularly detailed. They want to know about what their patients eat, how they sleep, what their life is like, what their stresses are, what makes them happy or sad, what their goals and beliefs are, and much more. They also ask about health history and overall health. Holistic physicians don't want to know only today's symptoms. They try to find the underlying causes of those symptoms. They listen very carefully, and they do not make personal judgments about their patients' lives. They strive to have an attitude of unconditional positive regard for and acceptance of their patients.
Holistic physicians believe that maintaining health is the best approach to eliminating illness. They discuss their patients' lifestyles, and suggest ways to improve their health and life. Nutrition and exercise are often important components of a wellness program.
Holistic doctors use healing modalities that consider the whole person and support the body's natural healing capabilities. They use a variety of approaches to diagnosis and treatment. For chronic (long-term) problems, they frequently recommend natural methods of treatment that have been shown to be more effective than conventional approaches. Holistic doctors are usually trained in several alternative health modalities themselves, but they may refer patients to a specialist if necessary.
Like other physicians, holistic practitioners prescribe conventional drugs, laboratory tests, or surgery when necessary. They discuss the drugs, tests, or other procedures with their patients in advance. They answer questions and help patients understand their options. Holistic physicians give patients choices and involve them in decisions about their healing program.
In addition to their regular duties as health care providers, holistic physicians must complete a large amount of paperwork. Whether they work in clinics or in private practice, they keep accurate patient records. More and more insurance companies are covering complementary and alternative services that are performed by licensed physicians. Holistic practitioners must frequently submit records to insurance companies in order to be paid for their services.
Those who work in private practice must also supervise the operations of their practices. This can involve interviewing, hiring, and training. Physicians in private practice may spend a large percentage of their time on business matters.