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Holistic Medicine VS Western Medicine: What's the Difference?

holistic medicine vs western medicine

More Americans than ever before are embracing holistic healthcare over conventional medicine with nearly 40% of adults using some form of alternative medicine. Whether it’s to alleviate chronic pain, reduce stress, or for other benefits, there are countless holistic approaches to prevent, treat, and manage almost every condition or illness. But what exactly is holistic medicine, and how does it compare to conventional healthcare practices? Keep reading to learn all that and more!

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 western medicine seeks to provide treatment for pain or the ailment, holistic healthcare 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. 

What is Western Medicine?

Western, also known as Conventional, healthcare is an approach to medicine that’s based on modern science, and which evaluates the human body, its disorders, and medical treatments in purely-biophysical or biochemical terms. Common treatment methods include drugs, radiation, and surgery, for example. Additionally, western medicine often utilizes the most statistically-likely diagnosis and treatments that work on larger populations through scientific studies, over individualized or specialized methods.

Holistic Medicine VS Western Medicine: How Are They Different?

Treatment of Illness 

Chiropractic adjustment Holistic healthcare primarily differs from conventional medicine in the diagnosis and treatment of illnesses. In holistic practices, identifying the disease is not the singular goal because illnesses are viewed as effects of the patient’s individual lifestyle; thus, treatments will vary for each person. Holistic treatments often incorporate medication, natural solutions or supplements, or diet and exercise regimens, like yoga. On the other hand, conventional medicine often includes formal tests and standardized treatments for every patient based on the illness. Treatments often include medication, with brief suggestions for lifestyle changes rather than concrete emphasis or direction to make those changes. 

Cause of Ailment 

While conventional medicine looks at physical components, such as corporeal 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, and discussion on how to level out imbalances. For holistic practitioners, environmental and emotional influences are factors equally important to the wellbeing of a patient as physical components.


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. One survey by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health found that Americans pay more than $30 billion per year on alternative medicines out of pocket. With trends like these, insurance companies are taking note and are moving to be more inclusive of holistic healthcare. On the other hand, conventional medicine is more likely to be covered by insurance providers, and thus more accessible to Americans. 

Benefits of Holistic Medicine

There are numerous benefits to utilizing holistic healthcare in your wellness journey, ranging from the practitioner’s approach to their overall goal of treating you as a whole person rather than the symptoms of an illness. Such advantages include:

  • Practitioners who offer safe, natural, and effective medicinal treatment options that include lifestyle and self-care, and who use alternatives to traditional prescription drugs and invasive procedures whenever possible 
  • Aiming to treat the underlying cause of disease or condition, instead of just managing the symptoms; holistic providers will take time to understand their patient as a whole and treat them as such as opposed to just treating individual components
  • Prevention is the primary goal, as well as helping the patient unlock their innate healing abilities; patients are seen when they’re well and when they’re sick, which helps the patient and practitioner form a plan for continued well-being and disease prevention

Examples of Holistic Medicine

Here are some of the more common examples of holistic medicine:

Chiropractic Medicine

Chiropractic is an alternative medicine that is concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system, especially the spine. This area focuses on the relationship between the body’s main structures – the skeleton, the muscles and the nerves—and the patient’s health. Chiropractors believe that health can be improved and preserved by making adjustments to these structures, particularly to the spinal column.


A key component of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture treatment involves inserting very thin needles through a patient’s skin at strategic points along the body, at various depths. Due to their small size, the needles don’t bring any discomfort but can provide relief by interrupting pain signals throughout the body.  While acupuncture has been traditionally used to treat discomfort from a wide variety of diseases and conditions, it is increasingly used as a remedy for pain management and overall wellness.

Massage Therapy

A type of integrative medicine, massage therapy involves a certified massage therapist who manipulates the soft tissues of the body, including muscle, connective tissue, tendons, ligaments, and skin. By using varying degrees of pressure and movement, the massage therapist can promote pain relief for health conditions or relaxation for overall well-being.

It’s one of the oldest remedies people have used for pain relief with a history that dates back about 5,000 years ago


Yoga is a mind and body practice; various styles of yoga combine physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation or relaxation. Yoga is an ancient practice that may have originated in India, and involves movement, meditation, and breathing techniques to promote mental and physical well-being.

Tai Chi

The essential principles of tai chi include the mind being integrated with the body through control of movements and breathing, generating internal energy, mindfulness, and song. The ultimate purpose of tai chi is to cultivate the qi or “life energy” within each person in order for it to flow smoothly and powerfully throughout the body. Total harmony of the inner and outer self comes from the integration of mind and body - empowered through healthy qi - via the practice of tai chi.


Reiki Reiki is a Japanese form of alternative medicine called “energy healing”. Reiki practitioners use a technique known as palm healing or hands-on healing through which a "universal energy" is said to be transferred through the palms of the practitioner to the patient in order to encourage emotional or physical healing.


Meditation is a practice where an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness, or focusing the mind on a particular object, thought, or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state. It’s also a consciousness-changing technique that can promote a wide number of benefits on psychological well-being.

Streamline Medical Insurance Billing for Holistic Practices with HBS!

No matter what type of holistic practice you’re running, your medical insurance billing processes could use some help. 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.

June 22, 2021
 - by Antonio Arias, MBA, CHBME
holistic medicine vs western medicine
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