By Joyce Reingold
The timing was not fortuitous. Just as Florida Atlantic University was poised to open its Marcus Institute of Integrated Health at FAU Medicine in Boca Raton last spring, the coronavirus began spreading through South Florida, triggering stay-at-home orders and shifting many health care services to virtual platforms.
And yet the idea couldn’t have been timelier. Through a grant from the Marcus Institute, FAU Medicine could now include integrative health services under its primary care umbrella, offering patients additional paths to wellness through options like mind-body practices, nutrition consultations, acupuncture and osteopathy.
The center proceeded with its pre-coronavirus planned launch by offering telehealth visits and online wellness classes. As 2020 progressed, the doctors began to see a limited number of patients on-site and continue to do so.
“Once we received this grant, we were able to hire an integrative medicine specialist, Dr. Anton Borja, who joined us earlier this past year, and we launched the institute,” says Dr. Joanna Drowos, D.O., associate dean for faculty affairs at FAU’s college of medicine, associate professor of family medicine and a member of the integrated medical science department. “And so, what that means is that we’re offering integrative health, which is really about a more holistic approach to patient care. It’s not to say that we only look at things that are considered alternative or complementary, or only things that are traditional. We sort of merge everything together, go where the evidence is and make more holistic recommendations to our patients that include a variety of different modalities.”
These modalities include:
• Osteopathic manipulative medicine and treatment: “I went to osteopathic medical school and I spent an extra year in school, working on my skills in osteopathic manipulation,” Drowos says.
“So that is something extra that I love to offer to my patients. It’s an alternative to help them, if they have discomfort. It’s great for a lot of different conditions. … We can use manipulation to alleviate symptoms. Dr. Borja is also a D.O. and does manipulation, but he’s also trained in traditional Chinese medicine.”
• Acupuncture: Borja, the institute’s director, practiced Chinese medicine and acupuncture before attending medical school. He wanted to combine conventional and integrative medicine, taking a holistic approach he says is “more ingrained” in Europe and Asia.
“Acupuncture is fundamentally just working on the physiology of the body, talking about the circulatory system and the nervous system,” he says. “We know that by stimulating different areas of the body, you’re stimulating the nervous system and it creates a cascade of responses that have been well-documented in the research. At its most fundamental, you’re triggering the nervous system and it creates a change in the brain that creates sort of a stress reduction. That’s just one piece of the multiple components that have been found in the research into what acupuncture does.”
The institute also offers nutrition consultations, mind-body practices, and micronutrient, vitamin and supplement infusions as tools for patients exploring ways to manage chronic pain or other ongoing conditions, improve their health, change lifestyles or reduce stress.
“With chronic illness and complex illnesses … it tends to be multiple factors, including the diet that patients have eaten most of their lives, the stress levels that they’re dealing with, the amount of exercise, their socioeconomic condition, their genetics,” Borja says. “And all of these factors play a part in how disease manifests. And so that’s where integrative health can really make inroads and can complement and accentuate conventional medicine, because we’re able to look at a bigger picture and take these things into consideration.”
Drowos says the goal is to develop a partnership between the patient and practitioner, using evidence-based treatments to address their concerns.
“I think of integrative medicine as just good medicine. It’s about how everything fits together,” she says. “We’re sort of bridging the traditional and the nontraditional. It has to be evidence-based. We’re not looking for therapies that are experimental or anecdotal. It’s really about making recommendations that have strong evidence and that are beneficial. … So, I think that we’re physicians with just a little bit of a broader focus and we can look at evidence that may not come to all family medicine physicians or all internal medicine physicians.”
When pandemic conditions have waned and a new normalcy sets in, the institute will be ready to fully blossom.
“The amazing news is that part of the grant covered renting the space adjacent to the primary care practice and we are actually finishing construction on a very large space that’s going to be dedicated to integrative health,” Drowos says.
“There’s a community room for mindfulness activities, a demo kitchen, a room for micronutrient therapy, lots of treatment rooms. … The idea is that once it’s safe to do so, we’ll use our space again and invite people in for all kinds of different classes — yoga, meditation, cooking demonstrations, you know, anything that we can do to sort of promote health because that’s a part of it.”
The Marcus Institute of Integrated Health at FAU Medicine is in the Galen Medical Building at 880 NW 13th St., Boca Raton. For more information call 561-566-5328.
Joyce Reingold writes about health and healthy living. Send column ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.