What Is Integrative Medicine?

Integrative medicine uses scientifically based conventional therapies while also embracing “complementary and alternative” medical therapies (CAM) when they may improve the chances for wellness, healing and recovery. The National Institutes of Health adopted the CAM designation when it created the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) in 1998. A nationwide government survey sponsored by NCCAM and released in May 2004 found that 36 percent of U.S. adults were using some form of CAM. Health care professionals and lay people alike now refer to the integration of conventional and CAM therapies as integrative medicine.

Integrative medicine also emphasizes the physician’s responsibility to engage each patient in his or her own unique approach to health and healing. Fundamental to this approach is the caregiver’s recognition of the physical, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of every individual’s life and health, along with a willingness to consider reasonable alternatives, i.e., natural agents and CAM therapies that have a wide margin of safety and have undergone scientific evaluation. The primary goal of integrative medicine is to maximize each individual’s ability to experience optimal health and wellness, and to support the body’s own healing potential.

From the text “Integrative Medicine”, by David Rakel, M.D., an Assistant Professor of the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Wisconsin Medical School, some comments on Integrative Medicine include:

  1. Integrative Medicine is healing oriented and emphasizes the centrality of the doctor-patient relationship. It focuses on the least invasive, least toxic, and least costly methods to help facilitate health by integrating both conventional and complementary therapies.
  2. Integrative Medicine involves using the best possible treatments from both complementary and alternative medicine and conventional medicine, based on the patient’s individual needs and condition.
  3. Integrative Medicine encourages more time and effort on disease prevention instead of waiting to treat disease once it develops.
  4. Components of Integrative Medicine include:
    1. Provides relationship centered care
    2. Integrates conventional and complementary methods of treatment and prevention.
    3. Involves removing barriers to activate the body’s healing response.
    4. Uses natural, less invasive intervention before costly, invasive ones when possible.
    5. Engages mind, body, spirit, and community to facilitate healing.
    6. Healing is always possible, even when curing is not.

The North Carolina Integrative Medical Society believes that the combined knowledge of mainstream medical practices and alternative medicine is ultimately superior to a single-model approach to health and wellness. We think this integrated approach will ultimately lead to safer, faster, more affordable, and more effective healthcare.