A growing field of medicine in which the patient and providers work together to develop a diagnostic and therapeutic program that draws on a variety of traditions, expertise and modalities to address an individual’s specific needs. Protocols developed in this framework, may include one or more modalities of treatment, diagnostic testing, natural and pharmaceutical therapies, as well as, referrals to other practitioners.For writing this article, I decided to search for a definition of Integrative Medicine that hit home with me. Here are a couple that I found:
Any approach that uses a partnering of both biomedicine (Western medicine) and complementary and alternative medicine.
Integrative healing is based on a practitioner-client partnerships in which both conventional and alternative modalities are used to stimulate the body's natural healing potential.
Here's my definition: Integrative medicine is the fusion of biomedicine with natural healing modalities (I don't like the terms alternative or complimentary medicines, and I'll discuss why in a bit), to use the least amount of intervention to get the greatest healing result.
I'll use the example of arthritis here to get my point across - I often have patients come in to see me because their medications aren't strong enough to take away their pain anymore. They've seen their doctor who is suggesting a stronger medication with some pretty scary side effects, or even surgery. They don't want to do either of these, so they're coming to their local acupuncturist to see if there's anything to be done. So we work together using acupuncture and Chinese herbs and, more often than not, they're completely pain-free and no longer need even their over-the-counter pain medications.
Now, I'm not saying that strong medications and surgeries aren't ever needed. On the contrary, they can be very helpful in reversing severe disease. But why would you jump straight to those therapies when other, less-invasive ones could be tried first? Or perhaps Chinese medicine doesn't completely resolve the pain, but makes it manageable with OTC medications, rather than prescription ones. Someday, surgery may be necessary to control their pain, but I always feel that it's best to use the least amount of intervention to get the greatest healing result at that moment.
So back to why I don't like the terms "complimentary medicine" and "alternative medicine." Let's start with alternative medicine. This label has been affixed to natural healing modalities and is often associated with the idea that "natural is better, and it's the only way to go." While natural medicine can do a lot to improve your health, it most certainly is not the only way to go, and isn't always the best. Emergency situations are a good example of when natural medicine isn't the best route. While there are emergency techniques in all natural healing modalities, they were developed before there were more effective life saving technologies available. If someone is having a heart attack in my office, I'm not going to rely on acupuncture and herbs to save them (though there are strategies for this in Chinese medicine!), I'm going to call 911, because biomedicine has a much better track record for saving them!
I don't like the term "complimentary medicine" either, because, while it acknowledges that natural healing modalities exist, it doesn't give them the proper amount of recognition as the health-changing therapies that they are. I like to think of it like a menu at a restaurant. Biomedicine is the majority of the menu, with the "complimentary medicines" being that little section where you can order extra side dishes. Those extra sides are always ungodly expensive, and not necessary, since most meals come with them in the first place. "Complimentary medicine" gets marginalized as something that isn't necessary, it's an extra that only the rich can afford.
I like the term "Integrative medicine" because it promotes a partnership between the patient and all of their healing practitioners, with everyone working together to do what works best for the individual patient. All of the healing practices are given their own, EQUAL seat at the table, and the patient is able to pick and choose what works best, with the least amount of intervention, for their body, their lifestyle and their principles.