The University of Arizona

UA Integrative Health Center Brings Whole-Person Health Care to Hundreds in Phoenix

By Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, October 18, 2013

The UA Integrative Health Center in Phoenix celebrates its first anniversary on Oct. 22.

The UA Integrative Health Center in Phoenix opened on Oct. 22, 2012.
The UA Integrative Health Center in Phoenix opened on Oct. 22, 2012.
UAIHC medical director Dr. Heidi Rula (center) was drawn to integrative medicine after discovering that she could not adequately address the needs of her patients with conventional medicine alone.
UAIHC medical director Dr. Heidi Rula (center) was drawn to integrative medicine after discovering that she could not adequately address the needs of her patients with conventional medicine alone.

A new model of health care introduced at the University of Arizona Integrative Health Center in Phoenix one year ago brings together conventional and complementary services in a whole-person team approach to patient care.

The center is the first in the nation to implement the integrative primary care model developed at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine (AzCIM) at the UA College of Medicine – Tucson, in affiliation with District Medical Group and the UA College of Medicine – Phoenix.

Patients partner with a wellness team that provides conventional medical care plus complementary care including acupuncture, chiropractic care, mind-body therapies, nutrition evaluations, health coaching and wellness groups, as well as classes like yoga and Tai Chi.

The primary care team is led by physicians who are graduates of the Fellowship in Integrative Medicine, started in 1997 by Dr. Andrew Weil, AzCIM founder and director.

When the University of Arizona Integrative Health Center, or UAIHC, opened on Oct. 22, 2012, Weil said, "This clinic is a dream come true the culmination of every idea we've had. This is where the clinical practice of integrative medicine becomes a reality. This is the first of its kind in the nation."

Since then UAIHC has provided care to nearly 400 new patients, including self-enrolled patients and employees of Maricopa County and the Salt River Project, the third largest public power utility in the nation. The primary care model at UAIHC incorporates insurance reimbursement and patient membership fees to provide members with a vast selection of primary and complementary services to best suit their immediate health and long-term health goals.

Dr. Heidi Rula, medical director of and primary care physician at UAIHC, said, "Over the past year we’ve seen patients embrace our team approach to their care, looking at the whole person including their existing health conditions, lifestyle and wellness goals.  Patients have worked with us to manage chronic pain, improve their diet, increase their level of fitness and reduce their stress.

"This is healing-oriented medicine," she said. "We offer a wide range of benefits unmatched in regular primary care environments."

Rula said one patient in her mid-50s came to the clinic "in a state of just being worn out overweight, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, fatigued and stressed out. She didn't think she would survive another year in her job because it was so stressful. She went through our program, took a lot of our classes including stress reduction and nutrition. She worked really hard and got to the point where she's rejuvenated, empowered to take control of her own life and ready to tackle her position at work again. Instead of being a work-oriented person, she has a more well-rounded perspective. She's transformed."

Patients at the center form a partnership with their personal integrative medicine wellness team. Each patient's team is led by an AzCIM fellowship-trained physician, plus a nurse practitioner or physician assistant, traditional Chinese medicine practitioner, chiropractor, mind-body practitioner, nutritionist and personal health coach. The program includes longer office visits, shorter wait times for appointments, access to practitioners by phone, plus wellness groups and health education classes.

Sometimes the health-improving benefits extend beyond one patient.

"A wife came to us first, wanting to work on more natural ways to deal with cholesterol and obesity," Rula said. "Last year she brought her husband who has heart disease. They changed their lifestyle dramatically and shared the experience with their adult children who wanted to go through the same process."

"We are transforming primary care," said Dr. Kote Chundu, District Medical Group chief executive officer. "This year we have seen first-hand the positive impact that integrative medicine is having on our patients. We're thrilled with the preliminary indications of success and look forward to demonstrating this with the outcomes research in progress."

The Adolph Coors Foundation is funding a three-year study of the health- and cost-effectiveness of integrative versus conventional medicine at UAIHC. Conducted by AzCIM, the research will compare outcomes of patients receiving conventional medical care and those receiving integrative care.

Contacts

Kieran Richardson
Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine
480-390-3287
kieranr@email.arizona.edu