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Western Medicine vs Holistic Medicine in America

western medicine vs holistic medicine

More Americans than ever before are turning away from conventional medicine and embracing holistic healthcare. Whether it’s to alleviate chronic pain, reduce stress, or for other benefits, studies are showing that more people are trading in their conventional doctors for holistic practitioners, or complimenting their conventional care with holistic therapies.  

In a survey of more than 89,000 adults and more than 17,000 children, researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that nearly one out of three people in the U.S. are seeking holistic healthcare solutions. So, why the shift to holistic medicine? There are several reasons responsible for the ongoing shift towards holistic healthcare. 

What is Holistic Medicine?

Holistic healthcare is a form of medicine that treats the “whole person,” treating not the physical self, but also the emotional, spiritual, and mental facets as well. Whereas conventional medicine seeks to provide treatment for pain or the ailment, holistic medicine focuses on both treatment and prevention. For example, if a patient has an ailment and turns to holistic therapy for help, the holistic practitioner will seek any underlying causes, including the patient’s stress levels and diet. 

There are many different types of specialties under the umbrella of holistic medicine, including:

Acupuncture Practices

By focusing on prevention and health alongside treatment, holistic healthcare has helped millions of people manage their own wellbeing more effectively. 

Western Medicine vs Holistic Medicine

Many holistic healthcare specialties have their roots in Eastern medicine. Compared to Western healthcare, Eastern medicine attempts to look at overall imbalances in a person’s life. This focus can be seen throughout all the holistic specialties. There are some key areas where holistic healthcare and Western medicine deviate from one another. 


Until recently, many holistic practitioners were not covered by insurance or were out of network. Even still, many holistic practices may find it harder to be covered by insurance. On the contrary, Western healthcare and treatments are more likely than not covered by insurance providers, and as a result more accessible to Americans. 

Eastern vs Western medicine

Cause of Ailment 

While Western medicine looks at physical components, such as physical symptoms and genetics, for the causes of illnesses, holistic healthcare looks at the overall wellness of the patient. This includes any possible imbalances, such as issues with mental health and diet. For holistic practitioners, environmental and emotional influences are just as equal factors in the wellbeing of a patient as physical components.

Treatment of Illness 

Holistic healthcare also differs from Western healthcare in the diagnosis and treatment of illnesses. In holistic practices, identifying the disease is not as important as in Western medicine because illnesses are viewed as effects of the patient’s individual lifestyle, and so treatments will vary per person and are not as clearly identifiable. Holistic treatments will often incorporate medication, natural solutions or supplements, or diet and exercise regimens. On the other hand, Western treatments will often include formal tests and standard treatments for every patient based on the illness. Treatments often include medication, with suggestions for lifestyle changes. 

While there isn’t one single reason for the growing popularity of holistic healthcare, there are several trends that may be held responsible for the rising shift of consumers choosing holistic practices. 

Growing Skepticism About the Medical Industry

More Americans are growing wary about healthcare institutions and general medical practices. Based on data from an international health care survey, Americans were found to have growing distrust in medical professions. While more than three-fourths of Americans had strong confidence in the medical field in the mid-1960s, currently only 34 percent trust the current medical system. Part of this skepticism can be due to a variety of motives. While many patients have been wary to trust medical research due to the motives being possibly compromised by funding, there is also the perception that key players in the healthcare industry pursue profits at the expense of patients.

Growing medical skepticism

There is also a growing public perception that Western medicine may be over-reliant on medications. While people are taking more medications than ever, doctors are also prescribing them on high doses - with some reports indicating that many of these pills are doing more harm than good. While nearly 7 in 10 Americans are taking at least one prescription drug each day, nearly nine in ten (89%) adults 65 and older are on prescription medicine. The most common prescriptions make up antidepressants, antibiotics, and opioid painkillers. One of the attractive aspects of holistic healthcare to many Americans is its lack of medications. For people trying to find less-medicated treatment, holistic medicine seems like a positive solution. 

Greater Accessibility 

In part due to the growing popularity of holistic medicine, more Western medical practices are adding supplemental holistic care - making it more accessible for patients. Hundreds of healthcare centers, including hospitals affiliated with Duke, Yale, Johns Hopkins, and other top medical research centers, are also offering holistic medicine, including acupuncture, massage therapy, meditation, Chinese herbal therapy, and more. While it’s likely the vast majority of hospitals will have alternative medicine options, this is a far cry from two decades ago when just 14% of hospitals were reported to provide complementary holistic therapies in 2000. 

With greater acceptance of holistic therapies in hospitals, clinics, and research centers, more people looking for alternatives are finding them easier to access. While many of these therapies are supplementary and made to complement Western treatments, they are allowing patients access to acupuncture, massage therapy, and even more alternatives.

Wide Range of Ailments Treated

One of the additional driving forces in the growing popularity of holistic healthcare is the wide range of illnesses that alternative therapies can encompass. Since therapies, such as massage and medication, focus less on the exact illness and more on the overall well-being of the patient, people with medical conditions that are not easily treated with conventional medicine are turning to holistic practices for relief.

For patients increasingly dissatisfied with the minimal time they receive with doctors and with physicians who seem to prescribe a pill for every woe, integrating their conventional treatments with holistic therapies or completely choosing a holistic approach to medicine offers a refreshing new take on care. 

Prepare Your Holistic Practice for the Future With HBS

With the growing demand for holistic medicine, your holistic practice needs to be optimized to handle growth. Medical billing is especially complicated for holistic practices and can possibly overwhelm your business as you focus on growing your practice and provide care for your patients. By outsourcing your medical billing, you can leave the responsibility of insurance enrollments, credentialing, and medical billing and coding to the experts - saving you time!

As an experienced billing provider for holistic practices, Holistic Billing Services can help your practice navigate the intricacies of insurance billing claims to minimize denials, increase your revenue, and grow your practice. We understand the unique needs of holistic practices, as well as the common obstacles you face when it comes to medical billing and coding. With a knowledgeable partner by your side, you can streamline your billing and increase your revenue cycle management! To learn more about our services, talk to one of our billing and coding experts today.

Latest post

April 27, 2021
 - by Antonio Arias, MBA, CHBME
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