Integrative health is when conventional healthcare and more holistic forms integrate. This way of thinking has been taking shape around the world. With health changing, the time has come for a new approach, say two integrative health pioneer practitioners from the UK. This is their story.
In 2018, the first Integrative Health Convention was launched in the United Kingdom (UK) in London. As General Practitioners (GPs) in health, we could see a changing tide of health practice and behaviour.
It was around the time that acupuncture was recommended for low back pain by the American College of Physicians (ACP). There was also the unexpected suggestion of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to consider complementary medical techniques for chronic pain management − even before pharmaceutical management.
We wanted to introduce the concepts of integral health to a new generation of doctors and the UK. To incorporate conventional, complementary health and self-care approaches. With one aim: to enhance patient outcomes.
I myself, (Dr. Toh Wong) have had a profound experience, which can only be called a miraculous improvement of a non-healing dense Bell’s palsy (facial paralysis). It was done under hypnosis and with some other non-conventional healing techniques, and it had caused me to question all that I knew about conventional medicine, which had told me that nothing else could be done.
Learning these simple techniques by enlightened [spiritual] teachers was the focus of the Integrative Health Convention: Many schools of health and healing sharing their knowledge with interested individuals.
The aspiration was to create a platform where doctors and Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) practitioners could learn, share and connect. Thus was born the Integrative Health Convention − the UK’s premiere annual conference on integrative health approaches for doctors, therapists, and the public.
The first convention featured 36 different fields of health and healing from Ayurveda1 to acupuncture, from yoga to Qi Gong, and from hypnosis to homeopathy.
This was held in partnership with the College of Medicine and Integrated Health. They are longstanding advocates for the integration of complementary therapies into routine clinical care. They were also the organisers of the Food on Prescription Conference. In addition, they were pioneers of Social Prescribing2.
The changing health landscape
We have made great strides in global health over the last 40 years. We have been so successful since, that we have seen life-expectancy in this time increase by ten years, and childhood mortality under five years reduce by two-thirds3.
But today, we face different challenges. It is imperative we tackle chronic diseases, which have become most of the focus of ill-health today. To refocus our efforts on the future of healthcare, the World Health Organisation (WHO) suggests that we must address the underlying determinants of health, and emphasise population-level services that prevent illness and promote well-being.
Already we see the tide turning, with conventional medicine practitioners recommending reduced prescriptions of some oral pain relief. They have also started recommending antibiotic stewardship4 and reduced reliance and emphasis on drugs that have poor long-term survival data.
A recent development in healthcare pioneering in the UK is the birth of Social Prescribing, and it’s increasing popularity worldwide. It encourages social contact in the community, with the introduction of individuals to therapists, groups or classes, and has been shown to consistently reduce primary and secondary care workloads by 20-25%. This is a massive cost and time-saving that cannot be ignored.
It will be cheaper and simpler in the long run if we look after ourselves and not get ill in the first place. The key to doing this is to empower people and communities. Involving them in the future of their health is essential in increasing patient satisfaction and ultimately in improving health outcomes.
Lately, there has been a push towards healthier lifestyles, and increased awareness by the public of complementary and alternative medicine. The increased uptake and satisfaction with the natural, and often ancient and more traditional approaches of CAM means that the providers of these services should be involved in a primary care health system that will prove to be widely accepted and effective for people.
Hunger for a different way
What has become clear at the convention is a hunger for a different way of doing things, and looking at problems with an increasing disillusionment of conventional medicine for many chronic conditions.
With the advent of social media and mainstream media, the public have increasingly been exposed to evidence-informed effective diets and behavioural approaches, as well as complementary therapies for self-care.
In recent years, there has been more publicity on the microbiome, with immense interest at the Integrative Health Conventions held. Breathwork5 with advocates such as Wim Hof was another popular modality attended at the convention, taught by Anthony Abbagnano.
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Interested in reading another perspective on breathwork? Check out this story about moonbird, a research-based technological device from Belgium, which is bridging the gap between scientific and alternative corners
Meditation and yoga, which have both seen amazing rises in popularity with the proliferation of apps like Headspace or Calm, also generate a constant interest at the annual health conference.
One of our most popular seminars at the Integrative Health Convention is by Dr. Akhtar on the use of behavioural techniques and advanced communication skills. Using the principles of hypnosis and suggestion with simple evidence-informed hacks are easily applicable to any health consultation.
Integrative health approaches have been growing around the world. They have a focus on personalised whole-person care, utilising conventional medical techniques (like surgery, medication, or physiotherapy) in combination with those used by complementary health practitioners (such as acupuncture, yoga, or herbal remedies) to optimise health. Self-care approaches (like exercise, nutrition, or meditation) are often also integrated.
This perspective is becoming more accepted, with dedicated bodies like the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NICCH) providing education and funded research in the USA.
There are numerous studies supporting the efficacy of hypnotherapy, acupuncture, and meditation, to mention a few. Many of these approaches have also been recommended in the UK and other countries for conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome utilising hypnotherapy; or the use of acupuncture and meditation for chronic pain.
There is no one-size fits all. Currently, when conventional medical care is inadequate, it is time to look outside what a medical doctor can offer. It may be time to consult a regulated Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) therapist who can use different modalities to help. For example, many chronic pain or fatigue conditions find great relief through CAM modalities. After all, when something a doctor is doing over and over again is having no effect on alleviating a problem, it is time to do something else.
Personally, we feel that lifestyle medicine (featured at the Integrative Health Convention 2022), which is on the rise, should focus on longevity. It should also look at slowing ageing through an understanding of the science that will reduce some of the adverse outcomes from ageing.
In brief, they may include fasting diets, exercise, achieving ideal muscle mass, and meditation among some of the simple techniques you can implement today. In the future, we see our convention introducing more of these concepts.
Integrative health is taking place in medical practices in the UK and around the world. General health practitioners Dr. Toh Wong and Dr. Naveed Akhtar were of the first to integrate hypnosis and acupuncture within their conventional medical practices. Together they created the UK Integrative Health Convention as well as Neuro-Linguistic Healthcare, for which they train medical doctors (GPs), psychologists, anaesthetists and other specialists, as well as complementary therapists.
The Integrative Health Convention is where leading, pioneering doctors and therapists in traditional as well as complementary medicine come together. The convention believes in creating a community of like-minded individuals who are open and willing to learn from each other and develop themselves. That way, they can possess the most effective skills from the most successful health practices available at this time.
About the authors
Dr. Toh Wong is a senior GP (General health Practitioners) at his practice and one of the UK’s leading doctors in Integrative Health. He has long-standing experience in the fields of acupuncture, Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) and hypnosis, as well as other systems of health and healing. Dr. Toh Wong specialises in providing individualised care by integrating his knowledge of conventional medicine, complementary therapies, and self-care. He is a GP Trainer and trains junior doctors and medical students regularly. He is also a Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and hypnosis trainer, and presents these techniques and promotes an integrative health approach nationally and internationally.
Dr. Naveed Akhtar is a Principal GP with special interests in minor surgery, musculoskeletal medicine and mental health. He is a Master Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) trainer, clinical hypnotherapist and a medical acupuncturist. Since 2008, Dr. Akhtar has been successfully using NLP with his patients. His success rate skyrocketed when he combined his skills with the principles of hypnosis, and together with Dr. Toh Wong they have developed a unique approach to effectively treating patients within a standard 10-minute consultation.
- Ayurveda is known as one of the world's oldest holistic (“whole-body”) healing systems
- Social Prescribing is when primary-care professionals refer patients to local, non-clinical services to support their health and wellbeing
- World Health Organization (WHO) & United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). (2018). A vision for primary health care in the 21st century: towards universal health coverage and the Sustainable Development Goals. World Health Organization. License: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.
- Antibiotic stewardship is the practice for antibiotics to be used only when necessary and appropriate
- Breathwork, or breathing exercises or techniques, is often used by people to improve mental, physical, and spiritual well-being
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