What Is Integrative Medicine?
Integrative medicine is a patient-focused, whole-person medical practice that uses treatments that are both evidence based and experience based. Integrative medicine combines a range of disciplines, including alternative and standard Western medical therapies, to provide safe, effective health care.
Practitioners of integrative medicine see patients as partners and work closely with you to ensure you're getting the treatments you need. Integrative medicine addresses several aspects, including the physical, psychological, social, spiritual, and environmental influences that affect an individual's health status.
In addition to providing treatments that attend to immediate health problems, integrative medicine focuses on the broader concepts of health (including living a healthy lifestyle) that promote a person's overall health and well-being presently and in the future.
What It Involves
Integrative medicine places an emphasis on the practitioner-patient relationship and is based on a model of emphasizing health and wellness, as opposed to a model of disease. By personalizing care for each person, integrative medicine treats more than just the symptoms.
Together, you and your practitioner 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 influence your long-term health and well-being.
Practitioners of integrative medicine integrate the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies along with traditional treatments. CAM therapies are only used if shown to be effective, safe, and suitable for a person's individual health condition.
Evidence-based CAM treatments often used with traditional healthcare include:
- Functional medicine
- Guided imagery
- Natural supplements
- Therapeutic massage
During your initial visit with an integrative medicine specialist, your health history will be assessed, and you'll explore the root causes of your illness to better understand how psychological, physical, social, spiritual, and environmental elements may be contributing to your health concerns.
You will work closely with the practitioner to develop a personalized wellness plan based on your immediate health needs. You will also be encouraged to establish healthy habits and self-care skills you can apply throughout your life to satisfy and sustain your long-term health goals.
Integrative medicine does not 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 consulted with an integrative medicine specialist, 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 remedies and complementary therapies included in your personalized wellness plan should not interfere with any traditional medications you've been prescribed. They instead are meant to maximize your body's capacity for recovery along with 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 healthcare, contact your insurance carrier to find out which expenses will be covered. Some insurance providers do not cover the complementary and alternative therapies 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 practitioners 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 criteria for these professions vary extensively, as does the regulation of these specialties.
If you are looking for an integrative medicine practitioner, 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 specialists see their patients not only as partners, but are also willing to work collaboratively with other healthcare experts responsible for your treatment.
Part of what makes integrative medicine so unique is the sharing of information amongst healthcare professionals who are addressing the needs of each individual. Research shows that interprofessional collaboration can improve patient results.
Integrative medicine therapies are used to treat many health problems and illnesses, including:
- Chronic pain
- Heart 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, personalized approaches to healing. Several hospitals have been trialing integrative medicine programs and examining the impact integrative medicine has on patient care.
A number of reviews and clinical studies have shown positive outcomes for patients and providers that participate in integrative medicine programs.5.
Researchers are discovering the benefits of integrative medicine for a number of disorders and situations, including pain management, symptom relief for cancer patients and survivors, and also programs that promote healthy behaviors to sustain long-lasting health.
People have practiced medicine throughout the world for thousands of years. History shows us that new medical treatments have commonly been a blend of old traditions with developments in societies worldwide. In that way, integrative medicine has informally been practiced by humans for many years.
Some professionals more formally adopted integrative medicine in the early 1990s. In 1994, the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine was founded, with a key emphasis on educating medical professionals in integrative medicine.
The Academic Collaborative for Integrative Health was developed in 2004 to promote policies and action to advance integrated healthcare throughout the United States. Today, integrative medicine is a globally recognized movement in medicine.