Demystifying the term “integrative medicine” to see how health technology & complementary therapies can help make medicine more effective
Integrative medicine treats the whole person, not just a specific illness or disease.
The US-based National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health defines integrative medicine as bringing traditional and complementary approaches together in a coordinated way. It is a practice “…that combines all available and appropriate therapies to address a patient’s concerns,” explains Katy Hansen, from the Osher Center, an internationally renown centre for Integrative Medicine at Vanderbilt Medical Centre, Tennessee.
Often when a patient visits a traditional doctor, he or she will receive tests specific to his or her symptoms. Mainstream solutions may then include surgery or the prescription of medication. However, in the case of many illnesses or problems (like chronic pain, for example), those solutions may not be the only steps a patient can take to improve his or her well-being. Traditional medicine will help you to survive, “but are you going to thrive?” asks Hansen. “Integrative medicine starts with a patient feeling a certain way and wanting to shift his or her experience.”
What therapies does integrative medicine include?
Therapies frequently include acupuncture, group therapy, massage therapy, mind-body counselling, mindfulness-based stress reduction, movement classes (such as yoga, tai chi and qi gong) and nutritional counselling.
The advance of technology gives more treatment options
In addition to these more established alternative treatments, the advance of technology and the relative lowering of production costs has also made available a number of new, home-treatment options which, until recently, would have been beyond the reach of most people’s budgets. These include cranio-electrotherapy stimulation (CES), audio-visual entrainment and interactive computer games using biofeedback. All these technologies have been proven to produce positive results in alleviating the symptoms of many chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia, PTSD, depression and insomnia, which traditional medicine has frequently failed to fully address because it is heavily focused on symptom relief, often at the expense of addressing causes and contributing factors.
Does integrative medicine work?
All of the therapies offered by mainstream practitioners and health equipment providers are evidence-based. This means that their effectiveness has been shown by research. Hansen stresses that in addition, behaviour can heavily influence wellness. “Integrative medicine is uniquely poisd to help patients make the necessary lifestyle changes for conditions not easily treated in a traditional doctor’s office,” Hansen adds.
So how does integrative medicine complement traditional care?
Integrative medicine works as much (if not more) on lifestyle and behaviour, as it does on symptoms. In contrast, traditional medicine works really well for the acute care of conditions such as appendicitis. Integrative medicine steps in to improve quality of life, particularly in more chronic conditions. But considering how lifestyle or behavioural issues frequently underlie many acute illness, there is clearly a preventative role to be played by integrative treatments too.
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This primary source of material for this article was provided to us by the Vanderbildt University Medical Centre news publication ‘My Southern Health.’ It is published here under CCL copyright provisions. It has been updated, edited and added to in order to account for our readership, which is primarily based in the UK & Europe. First published here on 1st March, 2018.