What is Integrative Medicine?
Integrative medicine is a philosophy and practice of medical arts that integrates all aspects of a patient’s healing. Integrative medicine is more than just caring for a patient’s physical needs with procedures, surgery, prescriptions and visits to a doctor’s office.
This healing-oriented medicine takes into account the whole person. It also focuses on the relationship between the patient and practitioner to advance healing within the patient’s lifestyle. Integrative medicine uses modern medical science as the main treatment, but it also takes into account research and studies that back other therapies such as nutrition, exercise, spirituality, family, supplements, traditional medicine, non-standard treatments and more. Doctors must think about current medical research when discussing certain therapies with patients.
Whole-person care moves away from the primary care physician (PCP) model and creates a team of practitioners responsible for the care of the patient. The team works together, and across all channels, with the goal of providing ongoing care for the patient to facilitate healing. In the case of integrative medicine, the PCP serves as the main point of contact for the patient before moving into a care-team mode.
The Body as an Instrument
Integrative medicine takes into the principle that the body is its own best healer. That also means each individual has a unique care plan. Whereas nutritional supplements may work for one person, another patient may find going for walks does better. A third person with the same medical condition may take up a hobby to facilitate healing. The point of integrative medicine is that the team of healers, which includes the patient, listens and responds to the patient’s ideas for bringing about healing.
Taking Control of Healing
The beauty of integrative medicine is that patients take control of their healing. Doctors, nurses, nutritionists, yoga instructors, acupuncturists and pet therapists listen to a patient’s needs and wants when it comes to a lifestyle and mode of healing. If a patient feels he or she wants to lean towards nutrition as a way to boost the immune system as a way to recover from surgery, that’s a perfectly valid discussion point to have with a care team.
The key to the success of integrative medicine is transparency. Doctors must be honest with patients about what therapies work and which ones may not work. The idea is that no single therapy is out of the question, so long as medical science backs it up. Acupuncture may not directly heal a patient’s broken leg because there are no studies that illuminate that fact. Acupuncture may, however, relieve pain symptoms in patients. Integrative medicine supports the notion that if a patient wants to see an acupuncturist once per week to manage pain, there’s nothing wrong with that modality of healing.
A 2007 survey showed at least 38 percent of Americans used some form of complementary medicine in addition to standard treatments. People who generally had higher income levels and more education were more likely to use complementary medicine. In some demographics, as many as 90 percent of patients use complementary medicine.
As many as 40 percent of hospitals offer inpatients some form of integrative medicine program. Rather than rely on mainstream medicine, the most common maladies successfully treated by integrative medicine include, chronic pain, gastrointestinal disorders, depression/anxiety cancer, and stress.
Surge in Integrative Medicine
Integrative medicine is nothing new to doctors as the practice goes back centuries. Integrative medicine became more mainstream as health care costs of Americans skyrocketed. This kind of medical practice filtered into the modern consciousness as a way to help patients heal in their own way and on their own terms while reducing costs of conventional and modern therapies.
For example, rather than using expensive, and possibly addictive, drugs to manage pain, integrative medicine practitioners might suggest yoga, acupuncture, massage, nutritional supplements, meditation and chiropractic treatments. PTSD patients may use drugs and psychological therapy to manage trauma, but targeted activities that interest patients also help. Activities such as horseback riding, owning a service dog, hiking or fishing have been known to help PTSD patients. These hobbies, in essence, take people’s mind off of the trauma by focusing their efforts into an activity they enjoy.
Changing the Culture
Integrative medicine does more than just heal people in a holistic way. It looks to change and challenge the stigmas of complementary and alternative medicine. Unfortunately, most health insurance policies don’t cover yoga, acupuncture or hypnosis as a therapy. That’s because mainstream medicine is slow to embrace change, even though integrative medicine is gaining prominence among more health care systems. Integrative medicine remains open to all channels of healing by taking an uncritical view of unconventional or alternative therapies.
Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine. “What is Integrative Medicine?”
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. “The Use of Complementary and
Alternative Medicine in the United States.” Page last modified March 22, 2016.
University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. “What is Integrative Medicine?”
Weil, Andrew, M.D. “What is Integrative Medicine?” https://www.drweil.com/health-wellness/balanced-living/meet-dr-weil/what-is-integrative-medicine/