A Holistic Approach to Medicine

By Dr. Katherine Birchenough

After spending some time at the Dolder Grand hotel in Zurich, Switzerland, it struck me that we Americans should certainly take a leaf out of the European book of health. We have at our disposal a multitude of incredible modalities aimed at keeping us well, and the database of knowledge about health and disease is growing at an exponential rate—but we don’t seem to embrace the same kinds of healthcare as they do overseas.

Medical resorts of Europe, like the Dolder Grand, offer a spa vacation that doubles as an opportunity for an earnest assessment of one’s general well-being. Here, medical professionals combine traditional spa treatments with medical evaluation by qualified doctors to help assess what factors might be holding you back from living your best life.

One of many medical wellness spas across the continent, there is no doubt that the Dolder Grand is perhaps the grandest of all. The historic building is flanked by two modern, beautifully designed wings and embraced by spectacular views of the city and the Alps, making the elevated location the ultimate setting for a medical assessment, treatment and recovery. (Not to mention that the owner of the hotel is an avid art collector, housing 124 works by 90 artists, including work by Salvador Dali and the massive 11-meter Big Retrospective Painting by Andy Warhol.)

The 10,000-square-foot spa contains the Klinik Tiefenbrunnen as a part of the Double Check Swiss Academic Center for Checkups and Second Opinions, employing a team of doctors from specialists to aestheticians. While I wasn’t in the market for medical treatment during my visit, the lovely hosts did give us a full tour of the facilities, filling my head and heart with dreams for American healthcare!

Alongside the Japanese pebble baths and alternating “hot rooms” and “ice rooms” that I enjoyed so much were other amenities for a health exam: blood work, imaging tests and anti-aging checks that measure hormones and metabolic markers.

With American health care, convention has it that when you get sick, you go to the doctor, get diagnosed, and get treated for the “thing” that made you ill. In short, it is a “disease-centered” approach. But as the Dolder Grand’s medical brochure states, “A single doctor can no longer be the sole contact for all matters.”

The cardiologist sees you for your heart, the neurologist for your brain, and the dentist for your teeth. But what if we’re missing something? What if your dental decay is affecting your heart valves, and causing mini-strokes? Who will take the time to put that picture together and determine the true root cause of what’s going on?

One would think that as a result so much knowledge and technology the rates of metabolic syndrome, cancer, autoimmune, and degenerative diseases would have gone down—but, in fact, in the U.S. it continues to increase. We seem to be living longer, but living sicker!

A holistic approach to medicine, like that employed by the Klinik Tiefenbrunnen of the Dolder Grand, blurs the line between specialties, as it requires consideration of the entire body and its interrelated functions. The patient as a whole, including their lifestyle, work habits and individual health challenges, should be taken into account for true personalized medicine. With this approach, health and vitality is prolonged, and the onset of disease is delayed or even prevented well into old age.

What we need is a true revolution in healthcare. We need doctors that act as partners to know us on a more personal basis. We need medical team members who talk to one another so nothing is missed. And we need you as the patient and consumer to speak up and ask for this.



Katherine Birchenough was the fourth MD in the state of South Carolina to be certified through the Institute for Functional Medicine. A South Carolina native, Dr. Birchenough is a University of South Carolina School of Medicine graduate, board-certified in pediatrics and emergency medicine and has recently devoted herself full-time to her wellness practice. Dr. Birchenough practiced traditional medicine for more than 12 years, diagnosing and treating diseases but not really getting to the root cause. Over the years, she watched as unhealthy environments and poor lifestyle choices affected the health of her peers and her patients, at one point even herself, and knew that something had to give. She realized the pursuit of health, beyond just the absence of disease, is a specialty in and of itself but wasn’t available to traditional medical students. This realization brought her to a new career path in functional medicine and has fueled her passion to treat the patient, not just the symptoms.



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