What Is Integrative Medicine?
Integrative medicine is a patient-focused, whole-person medical practice that uses treatments that are both evidence based as well as experience based. Integrative medicine incorporates a variety of disciplines, including alternative and standard Western medical treatments, to provide safe, effective healthcare.
Practitioners of integrative medicine see patients as partners and work closely with you to ensure you're receiving the treatments you need. Integrative medicine addresses many factors, including the physical, psychological, social, spiritual, and environmental influences that impact a person's health status.
Along with providing treatments that address immediate health concerns, integrative medicine focuses on the broader concepts of health (including living a healthy lifestyle) that promote a person's total health and well-being presently and into the future.
What It Involves
Integrative medicine puts an emphasis on the practitioner-patient relationship and is based upon a model of focusing on health and wellness, as opposed to a model of disease. By customizing care for each patient, integrative medicine treats more than just the symptoms.
Together, you and your doctor address the causes of an illness, including biological, psychosocial, environmental, and behavioral factors, in addition to prevention. The integrative medicine approach addresses your immediate health needs as well as the other variables that affect your long-term health and well-being.
Practitioners of integrative medicine integrate the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies in addition to traditional treatments. CAM therapies are only used if proven to be effective, safe, and suitable for a person's individual health status.
Evidence-based CAM treatments often used with conventional healthcare include:
- Functional medicine
- Guided imagery
- Natural supplements
- Therapeutic massage
During your initial visit with an integrative medicine specialist, your health background will be assessed, and you'll examine the root causes of your ailment to better understand how emotional, physical, social, spiritual, and environmental factors might be contributing to your health concerns.
You will work closely with the practitioner to create a personalized wellness plan based on your immediate health needs. You will also be encouraged to establish healthy behaviors and self-care skills you can use throughout your life to fulfill and sustain your long-term health objectives.
Integrative medicine doesn't replace the care you receive from your primary physician. Instead, it complements existing treatments prescribed by your primary care and specialty providers. When you've met with an integrative medicine practitioner, they will send your primary provider a summary of your visit and a list of therapies recommended.
In some cases, an integrative specialist may be a primary provider, depending on their professional training and the licensing requirements of the jurisdiction.
Any recommended natural treatments and complementary therapies included in your personalized wellness plan should not interfere with any conventional medications you've been prescribed. They instead are meant to maximize your body's potential for healing alongside any other treatments you are receiving.
Integrative medicine encourages individuals to take responsibility for their health and well-being when working in collaboration with their healthcare professionals and on their own.
If you are interested in receiving integrated medical care, check with your insurance carrier to find out which expenses will be covered. Some insurance companies do not cover the complementary and alternative treatments that are used in integrative medicine, while others cover certain treatments, such as acupuncture and some mind-body therapies.
Types of Integrative Medicine Professionals
Integrative medicine specialists include professionals of many disciplines-- medical doctors, nurse practitioners, doctors of osteopathic medicine, naturopaths, chiropractors, mental health professionals, mind-body specialists, massage therapists, and practitioners of complementary therapies such as reiki and acupuncture.
The educational and certification requirements for these occupations vary widely, as does the regulation of these specialties.
If you are looking for an integrative medicine specialist, look for someone that is fully accredited in their specialty and transparent about their experiences and belief system. For instance, do they believe in the mind-body-spirit connection that underlies the foundation of integrative medicine?
Good integrative medicine practitioners see their patients not only as partners, but are also willing to work collaboratively with other healthcare professionals responsible for your treatment.
Part of what makes integrative medicine so special is the sharing of information amongst healthcare professionals that are attending to the needs of each patient. Research shows that interprofessional collaboration can improve patient results.
Integrative medicine therapies are used to treat several health problems and illnesses, including:
- Chronic pain
- Cardiovascular disease
- High blood pressure
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Multiple sclerosis
Integrative medicine is growing in popularity in healthcare settings throughout the United States, as more individuals are interested in more holistic, individualized approaches to healing. Several hospitals have been trialing integrative medicine programs and investigating the effect integrative medicine has on patient care.
A number of assessments and clinical studies have shown favorable outcomes for patients and providers that participate in integrative medicine programs.5.
Researchers are exploring the benefits of integrative medicine for several disorders and situations, including pain management, symptom relief for cancer patients and survivors, and also programs that promote healthy habits to maintain long-term health.