March 26, 2023

Abby Cima/The Badger Herald
The University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health received a $5.5 million grant last month from the Bernard Osher Foundation, a group that provides scholarships to post-secondary institutions. With the grant, UW SMPH intends to expand a type of care known as holistic integrative medicine.
Holistic integrative medicine seeks to heal physical and mental aliments simultaneously to improve individuals’ overall lifestyle instead of only treating specific symptoms and problems as they arise. Examples of holistic integrative treatments include yoga, acupuncture and tai chi.
But integrative treatments differ more than just the solutions they offer — doctors also take unique approaches when it comes to individually treating each patient. Instead of spending only 10 minutes in a room with a patient, they spend about 30 to 45 minutes in conversation to get a better sense of both their medical and personal problems.
The holistic part of this new type of healing determines the root cause of an issue or illness as opposed to merely treating the symptoms. Integrative medicine also centers Chinese and Ayurvedic treatments as well as other mind-based healing techniques.
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Essentially, integrative medicine combines “conventional” treatments — such as drugs and surgery — with “complementary” treatments, such as yoga and meditation. Together, holistic integrative medicine can treat a wider range of a person’s health issues, including mental health struggles.
At UW SMPH, holistic integrative treatment would utilize mindfulness treatments, nutrition counseling and relationship building while still providing surgeries and prescriptions if needed.
Recent shortcomings in traditional U.S. primary care systems have given rise to holistic integrative medicine across the nation. Currently, many hospitals and private practices apply a one-size-fits-all formula to their patients when it comes to diagnoses or other health issues, which is simply not sufficient for the majority of clients.
Recent studies show that mental illness often plays a major role in affecting how the human body can handle illness. Though mental health has become less of a taboo than it once was, some doctors are still stuck in the past and neglect to weigh how mental illness can affect one’s physical health.
It is also difficult for people with mental illnesses to receive care for their mental health at their usual doctor’s office, as many primary care physicians are not adequately trained to handle mental health issues. Primary care is the type of care covered in most insurance policies — often described as essential health care — and is typically provided by the family or personal doctor that most people have.
But primary care physicians are typically unable to provide intensive mental health services. Physicians will often send patients to a psychiatrist to be accurately diagnosed or to a therapist for counseling.
This constant back-and-forth between different care providers is not only time-consuming but also incredibly expensive. Though most insurance policies must cover mental and behavioral health treatments, the coverage provided by health insurance can only go so far —and some plans are worse than others.
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College students are one of the largest age groups that struggle regularly with mental health, with about 73% of students having at least one mental health crisis while on campus.
Holistic integrative medicine would help centralize mental and physical health services. Instead of hopping between providers, patients would be able to address their physical and mental health issues all at once.
There have also been issues in the past with fatphobia in the healthcare industry. Studies show overweight patients have shorter appointment times and fewer opportunities to speak at those appointments.
There have been multiple cases in which an overweight person has died from an underlying illness that a doctor refused to look into under the assumption that any symptoms were simply a result of being overweight. Holistic integrative medicine could begin to structurally change the system that has enabled fatphobia in the medical field.
In terms of community impact, holistic integrative medical treatments could have many positive effects, particularly for students. Millennials and younger college students — who are a large chunk of the population in Madison — are less likely to go to the doctor even with serious health issues.
UW students have long called for better mental health services on campus, and holistic integrative treatments could be an answer to some of their demands. By utilizing holistic integrative treatments, UW SMPH could make mental health and physical health services more accessible to students, essentially combining the two into one appointment. Instead of traveling from a therapy appointment to a psychiatrist to a physician, UW SMPH would be able to centralize the process.
These treatments could also benefit families in the area who would be able to treat multiple issues a person in their family could have all at once.
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Though holistic integrative medicine comes with a huge amount of benefits, the major downside to this type of treatment is the price. A visit to an office of this type can cost anywhere from $500 to $1,200. Some insurance companies may cover these kinds of visits, but it is not a guarantee and there is not a comprehensive agreement between insurance agencies on the amount of coverage provided for holistic integrative medicine.
College students and low-income families could be discouraged from scheduling such appointments due to the overall cost, which would negate a lot of the positive effects holistic integrative care could have on the Madison community. Local residents should also keep an eye out for how UW SMPH’s new integrative holistic practices affect upfront costs like copays as the system is installed.
Though this grant is incredibly beneficial to UW SMPH as a whole — and could heal more patients with innovative holistic integrative treatments — the actual benefits brought to the community will take some time to tangibly gauge. 
Emily Otten ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in international relations and journalism.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 2:37 p.m. April 13. It was incorrectly stated that UW Health received the Bernard Osher Foundation grant. UW SMPH received the grant.
This article was published Apr 12, 2022 at 12:40 pm and last updated Apr 13, 2022 at 2:40 pm

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