What Is Integrative Gynecology, Exactly?
Integrative doctors take a whole-body approach to gynecologic care.
CBD, acupuncture, energy work—naturopathic and alternative wellness is on a major upswing. While your annual gynecological check-up may still consist of stirrups and swabs, it could be headed that way, too. There’s a new(ish) frontier of feminine health care that approaches your reproductive and sexual health from a more holistic perspective.
Here's how it’s different and why you may want to make the switch:
More and more gynecology practices are becoming integrative, using both alternative and conventional medical techniques for a more holistic experience. “Women are frustrated with the traditional model of medicine, and they’re seeking other options,” says Suzanne Jenkins, M.D., an ob-gyn at Whole Woman Holistic Gynecology in Oberlin, Ohio. So, what you can expect at your first appointment? (Related: Make the Most of Your Time at the Doctor's Office)
More Face Time
A standard office visit can be as brief as 13 minutes. In an integrative practice, block off at least an hour—longer if it’s your first appointment, says Gary H. Goldman, M.D., an ob-gyn and a certified functional medicine practitioner. Talking with the physician about any concerns helps build rapport and trust. “It’s hard to walk into an office, get naked, and discuss issues like painful sex with a virtual stranger,” says Dr. Jenkins.
More time with the patient means they can develop strong, long-term relationships. “It allows people to trust and open up and know that there's someone in their corner,” says Dr. Goldman. “In many cases, I become the go-to healthcare provider in their life.”
A Whole-Body Approach
One of the main differences between traditional medicine and holistic practitioners is that instead of focusing mainly on physical needs or ailments, they look at patients with a wider lens. During the visit, you’ll cover a lot more than the date of your last period. For example, Dr. Jenkins says she asks about diet, sleep schedules, stress levels, and exercise routines to start. All these things contribute to hormonal and vaginal health, she explains.
That wide-lens approach applies to treatments too. Let’s say you have an infection, like bacterial vaginosis. At a conventional ob-gyn office, you’ll get a prescription for antibiotics. At an integrative practice, your doctor will review all treatments, traditional (antibiotics) and alternative (such as boric acid suppositories and dietary changes).
"Sometimes it's about medicine and sometimes it’s about looking at someone's lifestyle, how they're dressing, bathing, and what kinds of sanitary products they're using, etc., and reestablishing a healthy vaginal microbiome,” says Dr. Goldman.
Integrative ob-gyns may have D.O. after their name instead of M.D., but both are safe to see, says Dr. Jenkins. Doctors in osteopathic medicine receive training similar to medical doctors, plus instruction in osteopathic medicine (which refers to manual manipulation techniques, like those you might get from a chiropractor). (More here: What Is Functional Medicine?)
Also worth noting: While some integrative ob-gyns accept insurance, many operate out of network. Before your first appointment, check to see if it will be covered. If not, get a full rundown of the rates in writing. And as with any doctor, you may have to try more than one to find the right fit.
Shape Magazine, April 2020 issue