Sarah Lee and Kara Dobelis Pohren have been nurses for a long time. They’re proud of that. Their careers not only satisfy them personally, but bring help to their patients in places where they need it most and often when they are most vulnerable. As a result, Sarah and Kara know that what they do every day makes a difference. But not always as much as they wanted. Even when Sarah became a Nurse Practitioner and Kara began to study for her NP certification, they found that, as often as they felt they were giving patients their best, they were also being held back.
The practice of medicine is, after all, a business. There’s nothing wrong with that, until the corporate structure of the medical industry interferes with patient care. At least, that’s what Sarah and Kara think, and they aren’t alone. During the last twenty years, the number of medical-complementary, or integrative, medical practices in the United States has been growing exponentially. The aim of an integrative practice is to provide care employing all of the techniques, both of traditional medicine and medical techniques considered ‘natural’, into one place so that a patient is not restricted by either prejudice or profitability. That integrative model suited Sarah and Kara just fine, fine enough that they decided they needed to do something about it and Integrative Family Medicine was born.
Kara says that “We see people who have not been comfortable going to a regular provider, even though we have a nurse practitioner. It’s just our approach to things. People have been shamed or shunned at practices and don’t go back for years and years.” In a way, she says, “They don’t even know they need us until they get here and experience it, what they need and deserve as a patient. They come in and they’re completely surprised at how we approach a visit.”
There’s a reason for that. “We were both trained as nurses first and you’re taught to be that intermediary between the patient and the provider so you grow up in that role professionally. We start with learning how to build relationships with patients and that’s always at the forefront of what we do.” What do they do differently? “There’s a high level of respect. There’s no judgment. We build trust in open communication that your questions and your decisions will be respected here.” Traditional doctors’ practices, says Sarah, “are more corporate than non-corporate, which is sad.”
Neither Sarah nor Kara wanted that anymore. As a result, they built Integrative Family Medicine to incorporate three big differences. First, they severed their ties to big medical businesses. Their practice is autonomous, while still offering services that a traditional practice offers. Sarah’s status as certified Nurse Practitioner allows her to diagnose, treat, test, and prescribe. IFM operates as a primary care provider, interfacing with specialists as needed, and prescribing mainstream medications when warranted. But there the similarity with traditional medicine ends.
The second difference is that IFM also makes medical-complementary care available. They recommend supplements and offer IV infusion therapy. They have a nurse health coach on staff who gives wellness counseling. They provide mental health, weight loss, and nutrition therapy. They offer PREP and sexual health help. This part of the practice is geared to transcend the medical approach to which many of us have had to become accustomed, the one that so often makes us feel like a laboratory specimen. IFM is fond of saying that they don’t treat diseases, they treat people. “People are looking for that integrative experience,” Sarah says. “They haven’t been to the doctor in ten years, haven’t had any routine medical exams in years, or they’ve been kicked out of a practice because they didn’t vaccinate their children. People are coming to us who have been alienated in the traditional medical community.”
The third way IFM stands out has to do with communication. First, they take time to listen. Appointments at IFM last longer than double the time taken in traditional practices, practices which often make patient turnover a priority. Sarah and Kara want to hear what their patients want to say. And the communication is a two-way street, because IFM publishes a price list for their services, so a patient always knows what they will pay. This system fosters exactly what Sarah and Kara want to build: transparency and trust.
The values by which Sarah and Kara formed IFM were affirmed by the immediate response they received, some of which they attribute to an attitude that approaches a problem with “Yes, and…” rather than “No, but.” Every day at IFM is full. “Like today,” Kara explains, “We were full and would have had to turn away people, but some rescheduled, and it booked right up again.” Some of the credit for their initial success, they say, goes to Northgate Marketing. “Northgate was monumental in the development of our brand as a company. From the color selection to logo design to photography, everything has seamlessly blended to help us launch our company. Our website stands out among our competitors because we have the branding of our company incorporated into the design and flow of the website, making it easy for potential patients to find what they need but also delivering them an online experience they don’t get with other primary care offices.”
So Integrative Family Medicine is off and running. Do its founders have any idea what comes next? Well, they’ve already begun thinking about it. The future of IFM may take shape as a second facility sooner rather than later, but in the meantime, “This is what we envisioned,” Sarah says. “We’re both striving to make it the best.” And that is what they’d wanted to do all along. “We’re just genuinely happy to be here.”