WHAT IS INTEGRATIVE MEDICINE?
Integrative medicine combines the use of conventional medicine with naturopathic (alternative) medicine. It is an overall approach to health and healing that is sometimes referred to as a whole medical system or alternative medical system. It enables healing through the restoration of natural balance and holds a strong belief that mind and body are strongly connected. Integrative medicine believes in the healing power of nature and its methods are natural, non-invasive, and minimally toxic. There is a strong focus on treating the whole person with an individualized treatment plan.
Integrative medicine is the practice of medicine that reaffirms the importance of the relationship between practitioner and patient, focuses on the whole person, is informed by evidence and makes use of all appropriate therapeutic approaches, health care professionals and disciplines to achieve optimal health and healing.
Treating the Whole Person
Both doctors and patients alike are bonding with the philosophy of integrative medicine and its whole-person approach -- designed to treat the person, not just the disease. IM, as it's often called, depends on a partnership between the patient and the doctor, where the goal is to treat the mind, body, and spirit, all at the same time. While some of the therapies used may be nonconventional, a guiding principle within integrative medicine is to use therapies that have some high-quality evidence to support them.
Conventional and Alternative Approaches
The Center for Natural and Integrative Medicine is a classic model of integrative care. It combines conventional Western medicine with alternative or complementary treatments, such as bio-identical hormone replacement, oral and I.V. nutrition, Chelation, herbal medicine, oxidative and hyperbaric treatments, detoxification, acupuncture, massage, biofeedback, -- all in the effort to treat the whole person. Proponents prefer the term "complementary" to emphasize that such treatments are used with mainstream medicine, not as replacements or alternatives. Integrative medicine got a boost of greater public awareness -- and funding -- after a landmark 1993 study. That study showed that one in three Americans had used an alternative therapy, often under the medical radar.
The Appeal of Integrative Medicine
What makes integrative medicine appealing? Advocates point to deep dissatisfaction with a health care system that often leaves doctors feeling rushed and overwhelmed and patients feeling as if they are nothing more than diseased livers or damaged joints. Integrative medicine promises more time, more attention, and a broader approach to healing -- one that is not based solely on the Western biomedical model, but also draws from other cultures. "Patients want to be considered whole human beings in the context of their world," says Esther Sternberg, MD, a National Institutes of Health senior scientist and author of The Balance Within: The Science Connecting Health and Emotions.
The Mind-Body Connection
Sternberg, a researcher who has done groundbreaking work on interactions between the brain and the immune system, says technological breakthroughs in science during the past decade have convinced even skeptics that the mind-body connection is real. "Physicians and academic researchers finally have the science to understand the connection between the brain and the immune system, emotions and disease," she says. "All of that we can now finally understand in terms of sophisticated biology." That newfound knowledge may help doctors to see why an integrative approach is important, she says. "It's no longer considered fringe," Sternberg says. "Medical students are being taught to think in an integrated way about the patient, and ultimately, that will improve the management of illness at all levels." Integrative medicine seeks to incorporate treatment options from conventional and alternative approaches, taking into account not only physical symptoms, but also psychological, social and spiritual aspects of health and illness.
Medical Schools and Integrative Medicine
Even medical schools have added courses on nontraditional therapies, although doing so can sometimes be a point of contention among faculty.
At the University of California, San Francisco, medical students can augment their coursework in infectious disease and immunology with electives, such as "Herbs and Dietary Supplements" or "Massage and Meditation." They can even opt to study as exchange students at the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine. In the world of integrative medicine, it's not unusual to see a Western-trained MD who also has credentials in acupuncture or hypnosis, or a registered nurse who is also a yoga teacher and massage therapist.
The Defining Principles of Integrative Medicine
- Patient and practitioner are partners in the healing process.
- All factors that influence health, wellness, and disease are taken into consideration, including mind, spirit, and community, as well as the body.
- Appropriate use of both conventional and alternative methods facilitates the body's innate healing response.
- Effective interventions that are natural and less invasive should be used whenever possible.
- Integrative medicine neither rejects conventional medicine nor accepts alternative therapies uncritically.
- Good medicine is based in good science. It is inquiry-driven and open to new paradigms.
- Alongside the concept of treatment, the broader concepts of health promotion and the prevention of illness are paramount.
- Practitioners of integrative medicine should exemplify its principles and commit themselves to self-exploration and self-development.
- A health care program principled in science and tradition where the patient is treated as a whole person and respected as an individual.
- Personal empowerment and responsibility in order to attain optimal health.
- A care plan tailored to fit each patient's needs in order to honor the personal healing process.
To assure the highest standards of practice, the Center for Natural and Integrative Medicine employs highly-trained practitioners who are licensed, certified and credentialed in their specialty according to law.