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What is Integrative Medicine?

Higher Education Articles August 28, 2013

Integrative medicine is a medical approach that advocates the integration of both alternative medicine and more traditional, evidence based western medicine. Different organizations define integrative medicine in slightly different ways, but all agree that integrative medicine strives to utilize all effective forms of treatment for the good of the patient.

Integrative medicine uses a variety of techniques in the treatment of patients, including:

•Acupuncture
•Tai Chi
•Massage therapy
•Biofeedback
•Yoga
•Meditation
•Stress reduction techniques
•Nutrition counseling
•Chiropractic therapy

Complementary versus alternative

Many of the methods used in integrative medicine were once considered alternative therapies, and still are by some of the more skeptical therapists. Organizations and health practitioners that utilize integrative medicine techniques prefer the term “complementary” as opposed to alternative, because it implies that these treatments are used along with traditional medicine.

A whole person approach

The Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine (ACIM), founded by Dr. Andrew Weil, defines integrative medicine in a way that many other similar organizations do – as healing oriented medicine that takes into account the whole person, including all aspects of lifestyle. The ACIM has a list of defining principles for integrative medicine, which are as follows:

•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 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

The ACIM is one of many organizations devoted to the furthering of integrative medicine, but its approach and set of guidelines demonstrates how integrative medicine has managed to overcome sometimes fierce criticism, of which there has been no shortage of.

Criticisms Lack of evidence

The largest criticism against integrative medicine has concerned a lack of evidence. Western medicine is founded on scientific principles, and many integrative therapies originate in traditional cultures with their own explanations and theories how these therapies function. Many of these explanations do not pass scientific muster, and the medical world has reason for its skepticism.

Until each therapy can demonstrate, through controlled testing, that it is capable of producing real results that a placebo cannot, it is open to scrutiny.

Market forces

Another significant objection to integrative medicine involves money. Some doctors argue that hospitals and treatment centers are motivated more by money than good science when they adopt an integrative approach. There is a great demand from the public for non-traditional therapies, and some argue that treatment centers are simply opening to fill that need.

Overcoming resistance through evidence

While there is no doubt some truth to these criticisms, proponents of integrative medicine are working to overcome them, and they are succeeding. More doctors are coming to understand the value in an integrative approach. This is in part through increased scientific scrutiny of various treatments, and in part because of the overall improvement of patients treated this way.

Good research

The skeptics are not the only ones who want more research conducted. Proponents of integrative medicine, like the ACIM, are pushing for more research on the subject. Duke University, which has its own school of integrative medicine, is conducting research on the effectiveness of meditation and journaling to prevent preterm labor. Other trials are under way for acupuncture, to determine what is actually happening in the body during treatment.

Various therapies may not work for the reasons traditionally understood, but there is no denying that patients are getting results. It is only a matter of time and effort on the part of researchers to determine why.

The future of medicine

The world of medical treatment is changing, and it is likely that the future will look much more like the integrative model than it does today. The primary concern of doctors is the healing of patients, and some integrative methods generate results that are difficult to ignore. One day, a trip to the doctor could result in a prescription for meditation along with the standard blood pressure medication.

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