What Is Integrative Medicine and How Does it Work?


What Is Integrative Medicine and How Does it Work?

Imagine a healthcare system that puts the patient first, one that that is preventive, predictive and personalized. It might seem far-fetched if you have seen a doctor lately, but such a concept exists. It’s called integrative medicine, which has emerged as a proactive healthcare approach to wellness and a cost-effective solution to the epidemic of chronic diseases that tax the economy. Estimates by the Centers for Disease Control indicate it costs each U.S. state between $411 million and $26 billion each year to treat cardiovascular disease alone.

More than 50 health institutions across the country — many with recognizable names like Harvard, Duke, Stanford and Mayo Clinic — provide some sort of integrative services and offer treatments like acupuncture, massage and nutrition counseling along with surgical options and conventional medications. And many health care professionals in private practice, including medical doctors, doctors of osteopathic, and holistic and natural practitioners engage in some type of collaborative care that supports an integrative model.

According to the Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine, “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, healthcare professionals and disciplines to achieve optimal health and healing.”

You can think of the integrative concept as a marriage of conventional medicine with other healing modalities, including complementary and alternative medicine. An integrative practice neither rejects conventional medicine nor uncritically embraces alternative therapies. Instead integrative medicine specialists “cherry pick” the best and scientifically supported therapies of both systems. The ultimate goal: to get the patient better through the use of safe, effective, less-invasive interventions whenever possible.

Whole Person Care

As a healing-oriented concept, integrative medicine takes into account the whole person — mind, body and spirit as well as lifestyle. In the integrative setting, practitioners and patients are partners. With a focus on the patient and not the disease, integrative medicine encourages a practitioner-patient relationship that is highly personal, respectful, open and trusting. During an exam, an integrative practitioner will address the full range of physical, emotional, mental, social, spiritual and environmental influences that contribute to a person’s health.

Since integrative practitioners understand that the appropriate use of both conventional and alternative methods facilitate the body’s innate healing response, they look at the complete spectrum of care to achieve optional health. Your practitioner may suggest a treatment course taken from biomedicine/allopathic (conventional) medicine and other healing therapies such a Traditional Chinese Medicine, manual/osteopathic techniques, diet and exercise changes, and mind-body modalities like yoga and Tai Chi.

For example, if you are undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, your integrative oncologist might suggest you use a body touch method like massage therapy as part of your healing process. While massage can’t treat the cancer itself, it may help reduce the side effects caused by conventional treatments and improve quality of life and well-being.

The practitioner also could advise you to consider Chinese herbal medicine to increase nutrients levels and help detoxify the body. Or try acupuncture to bring the energy flow back into balance while undergoing mainstream treatments for a chronic illness.  

A Model of Success

Prevention is a key factor in integrative medicine. In addition to choosing treatments that are both good for the patient and good for the disease, integrative medicine practitioners support a broader concept of health promotion and illness prevention.

By making patients aware of how their lifestyle choices and behaviors like diet, exercise and stress can lead to certain medical outcomes, a dynamic of shared decision-making is created that raises the level of self-help and responsibility and increases the commitment to staying healthy.

While some in the medical community may view the approach as fundamentally contrary to care, others see it as promising. In a survey of 29 U.S. integrative medicine centers conducted by the Bravewell Collaborative, 75 percent reported success using integrative practices to treat chronic pain and more than half reported positive results for gastrointestinal conditions, depression and anxiety, cancer and chronic stress.

That’s encouraging news for practitioners who are able to witness the benefits of a paradigm of care that embraces integrated therapies and for individuals who experience better outcomes due to a healthcare model that treats the patient rather than the illness.

If you want to learn more about integrative medicine, schedule an appointment with the experts at Sicari Healing Arts.