The concept of Integrative Medicine is gaining recognition as a practical and effective way to tackle the growing healthcare crisis, however there are still a number of challenges, and perhaps misconceptions, that are inhibiting its complete acceptance.

Skepticism on the efficacy of alternative treatments, questions about its financial viability, and a lack of understanding on what Integrative Medicine truly entails, are all challenges that still need to be frequently addressed. While there are a variety of proven benefits to adopting an integrated approach to health and wellbeing, it’s important to first understand the basic principles of Integrative Medicine.

What is Integrative Medicine?

The Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine defines integrative medicine as “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, health care professionals, and disciplines to achieve optimal health and healing.”

One of the core messages is the provision on multiple therapies to patients, an amalgamation of different treatments that work together, based on an individual’s unique circumstances. While Western medical approaches are fundamental in treating patients and their importance cannot be overstated, the recurring perception among many patients is that they often focus on treating the symptoms, not the underlying cause of an illness.

By combining both eastern and western philosophies, we can start to not only treat patients more effectively, but we can start to address the underlying lifestyle choices and emotional needs that are contributing to the prevalence of chronic conditions throughout society. Put simply, it’s not just about treating an illness, but about prevention, ensuring that even in the absence of disease we can all feel as health, happy and optimistic about our lives as we possibly can.


Promoting health through self-care

At the risk of painting society with a broad brush, a common catalyst for visiting a doctor or hospital is because something has gone wrong. We go about our daily lives preoccupied with the typical thoughts and worries that accompany modern life, until something breaks.

We then visit our local physician who may write a prescription, and if we’re lucky we continue with our lives either aware, or blissfully unaware that the root cause of our pain and suffering hasn’t been fully addressed. While this is a simplistic view, and of course there are many health care providers who go above and beyond this approach, it’s fair to say that this particular scenario isn’t uncommon.

The onus in this situation is very much on the physician. We’re relying on their expertise and guidance in order to regain our health, but we can, and indeed should take more responsibility for our own health. It’s arguably the most important thing that we should be concerned about.

An alternative approach would be adopting Integrative Medicine, where the focus isn’t on the disease, but on the person. The intention is to provide people with the ability to enhance their own resilience and wellbeing, in whatever form or treatment this may take.

For people suffering with anxiety or depression, medication can certainly play a role, and particularly in severe cases an integral one, but it doesn’t always help with the underlying problem. Alternative treatments like meditation and yoga have a wealth of evidence based literature that supports their effectiveness on a variety of mental health conditions; but importantly they are techniques that can be practiced anywhere, at any time.

It’s this ability to become self-reliant, feeling empowered with the tangible benefits that people can experience and control, is an important aspect of both recovery and prevention. With the appropriate guidance and education, patients can become responsible for their own health and wellbeing, increasing an individuals capacity for self-care, self-regulation and self-healing. 


A closer relationship with the patient

It’s not news that doctors and nurses have a difficult job. The British Medical Association recently reported that patient care is at risk due to a chronic shortage of doctors across most areas of medicine.

Faced with increasing pressures, it’s understandable that doctors don’t always have as much time as they’d like when seeing patients. While intentions can be fully commendable, faced with under funding, time pressures and simply being human, it’s not always possible to give the adequate time and support to each and every patient.

Patients themselves can also seem unhelpful, particularly if they’re scared or reluctant to divulge information that may be deemed sensitive or embarrassing. The end result is a potential disconnect between the patient and physician, one where the patient feels doesn’t always feel fully supported or understood, and the physician may feel frustrated in the lack of forthcoming information.

While someone suffering from a broken arm can probably overcome this particular challenge without too much of an adverse effect on their health, for people suffering from mental health related conditions, the ramifications can reach far and wide.

By fostering a new integrative approach, deeper relationships can be formed with a patient, assisting with both evaluation and diagnosis in order to provide a more holistic view of the person.

The patient also has access to a support network of health professionals – whether that’s psychologists, yoga instructors, or nutritionists – that together understand every aspect of their physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. Patients can also start to feel as if they have the adequate care and emotional support from both conventional and alternative therapists, key attributes for generating the motivation required for making positive changes in their life.


Integrative medicine is cost effective

One of the primary arguments against an Integrative Medicine is the cost, with detractors stating that it requires more time, more health care providers and a broader scope of services that ultimately isn’t financially feasible.

In a review of medical and corporate literature, The Bravewell Collaborative Report highlights the efficacy and cost effectiveness of an Integrative Medicine approach. The research demonstrates that changes in lifestyle that focus on exercise, nutritional interventions, and the development of greater love, intimacy, and emotional wellbeing, can not only reverse the progression of many chronic diseases in some cases, but could save millions of dollars in reduced health care costs.

According to the American Heart Association, in 2006 coronary angioplasty procedures and coronary bypass operations cost the U.S. healthcare system more than $100 billion in total to perform. Whichever way you look at it, it’s a huge amount of money.

By comparison, the INTERHEART study found that a change in lifestyle choices could prevent at least 90% of all heart disease, and if only ten percent of procedures were avoided due to these changes, it would result in a savings of $10 billion dollars annually.

Another study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine evaluated individuals at high risk for diabetes mellitus and found the cost for an oral drug intervention was $29,000, compared with $8,800 for a lifestyle intervention.

While the initial view of providing combined services is one of additional and unsustainable resources, the wider context is that by addressing chronic conditions through the improvement of lifestyle choices, the pressures placed on healthcare systems can be significantly reduced.

Ultimately Integrative Medicine isn’t trying to replace conventional medicine, but by working collaboratively with traditional medicine is can give patients more choice and control in their own health and wellbeing. It’s also vital that both conventional and alternative medicine should only be considered with the support of reputable medical science.

The ray of light in a deepening healthcare crisis is that human body wants to get better, it’s continually striving for health and in the right environment, modern science and non-invasive procedures can work together to reduce physical, mental and emotion pain, and attain the very best health outcomes for patients.

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