Integrative Medicine Sees Uptick During Pandemic

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Doctors practicing integrative and holistic health are seeing increased interest from new and returning patients because of the pandemic.

Az Tahir, MD, who practices holistic medicine in Syracuse and Rochester, said that his patient load has increased, even though he is seeing patients only via Zoom and Facetime.

“We’re very busy,” he said. “I think people are more concerned about their health than before coronavirus. If they have any long-term health issues they’re neglecting, they are concerned about that. They want preventative care. There’s a lot of because of the media, interest in vitamin D and zinc. They’re getting more concerned about a healthy lifestyle.”

He has also seen people presenting with anxiety and depression. Although they seek his care for other symptoms, he notes symptoms of anxiety and depression during visits as he discusses their health concerns. Tahir believes that the pandemic is causing those with history of anxiety and depression to experience these issues again.

Like Tahir, Heidi Baldwin, practice manager at Integrative Medicine of Central New York in Chittenango, said that many patients are presenting with stress and sleep issues.

“They are struggling with their sleep because of increased anxiety with the stress of the current situation,” Baldwin said.

She added that the change in routine – such as working and educating at home and for some decreased income – has added to their stress level.

Baldwin has also observed increased patient interest in “prevention and how they can best support their immune system to avoid getting COVID.”

The practice has always used telemedicine; however, more widespread acceptance among patients has helped the practice reach more patients, which has increased the patient load. Some patients still prefer using telemedicine for a variety of reasons beyond COVID-19 concerns. With remote appointments, they do not have to worry about transportation, weather or childcare.

Renée Melfi, board-certified in physical medicine, rehabilitation, pain medicine, and integrative holistic medicine, practices at Regenerative Spine & Musculoskeletal Medicine in Syracuse. She offers in-person visits and telehealth.

“Since the federal government has allowed telehealth, I notice that many patients prefer to have telehealth visits rather than in-office visits,” she said. “The majority of patients continue to prefer to remain in their home in interest of social distancing and disease mitigation than be seen in-office.”

Unfortunately, that also means that many are not going to their gym or fitness center, either. She encourages them to stay active while at home, such as by going for walks.

Melfi has also noticed that their health concerns have become more focused on basic healthcare needs rather than non-essential treatments.

“Generally, patients’ primary concern is remaining healthy, largely through social distancing and staying home, and candidacy for the vaccine,” she said. “Even though I am a specialist and not primary care, I discuss the COVID vaccine with patients, especially seniors and medically high- risk patients. Unfortunately, many seniors do not know they can get the vaccine and they have no idea how to sign up to get it.”