Welcome to Fullscript’s integrative medicine education series. Discover how integrative medicine improves patient outcomes and why it’s being adopted by forward-thinking practitioners across North America.
Currently an estimated four in ten Americans use some form of complementary or integrative medicine and more than half of family doctors recommend some type of alternative therapy to their patients. (31)(33) As interest grows among both patients and practitioners, integrative medicine might just represent the next generation in healthcare.
What does an integrative medicine doctor do?
Integrative medicine uses a combination of evidence-based conventional medical care and alternative treatments and therapies to address both the symptoms and the root cause of a disease. The goal is to not only improve health outcomes, but to help patients achieve optimal health and wellness. (21) By considering a patient’s lifestyle, mental/emotional well-being, and environment, an integrative medicine practitioner focuses on the whole person, not just their symptoms. (6)
What’s more, integrative medicine doctors are noted for forming a partnership with each patient to accomplish their health goals. (9) It’s a patient-centered medical system with a diverse array of evidence-based tools at its disposal to enhance health and healing. Like allopathic physicians, integrative medical practitioners can utilize conventional drugs, surgery, and testing. Like alternative or traditional Western medicine practitioners, they can use traditional or lifestyle therapies shown through science to be safe and effective. (6) These can include:
- Ayurvedic medicine
- Chiropractic care
- Dietary supplements
- Expressive art therapy (i.e., art or music therapy)
- Guided imagery
- Healing touch therapy
- Herbal remedies
- Magnetic field therapy
- Massage therapy
- Traditional Chinese medicine
- Vitamin IV therapy
- Yoga (2)(5)
What to expect during your appointment with an integrative medicine doctor
Instead of just getting an average of 15 minutes of facetime with your physician, an initial appointment with an integrative medicine doctor can take an hour or more. (32) During your appointment, the physician will take a deep dive into your personal and family history. They will also ask about any current medications or dietary supplements you are taking as well as your diet, lifestyle habits, and environment. The initial appointment may include a physical examination and functional testing (i.e., food sensitivity, genetics, gut health, or hormone testing). Conventional laboratory and/or imaging testing may also be ordered as needed to establish a baseline. (13) Not only will this provide the physician with vital information about your condition and the general state of your health, it allows enough time to establish a rapport between doctor and patient.
Once an integrative medical doctor has all of your data, they will create a unique and personalized health plan using all of the tools available to them. The ultimate goal is to foster the best healing strategy to address a patient’s immediate concern and to work with them to cultivate improved quality of life as well as optimal health and wellness. (3)(12)
How to find an integrative medicine doctor
If you’re interested in exploring the benefits of integrative medicine with an integrative medicine doctor in your area, you can tap into the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine database at the University of Arizona to find a practitioner near you. Since this database may not include every integrative medicine doctor in your city or state, a simple online search may yield more results. A local hospital or university, as well as your primary healthcare provider, may also be able to supply you with a list of integrative medicine doctors. (23)
During your first visit, it’s wise to ask the same type of questions you would ask any medical professional:
- Are you board certified?
- What is your philosophy towards healing?
- Are you experienced with my particular health concern?
- What primary treatments do you use?
- Do you accept my insurance?
- How long does the appointment typically last?
- Can I bring a family member or friend to the appointment?
- What is the cost of care? (22)(23)(24)
The future of integrative medicine
The future of integrative medicine looks bright as conventional doctors and medical institutions increasingly explore and utilize complementary therapies. Integrative medicine is becoming so well accepted that one paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that 48% of mainstream practitioners recommend complementary protocols to their patients—and 24% use some form of complementary medicine themselves. (7) This trend is primarily being driven by the high rates of chronic disease, the high cost of conventional medical care, and the patients themselves. (29)
Because of the growing interest in integrative medicine among patients and practitioners alike, the scientific community is starting to conduct more research into the efficacy and safety of various complementary therapies. (16)(19)(29) Some medical schools are also including complementary disciplines into their curriculums. (8)(14)(29) What’s more, new clinical practice guidelines that include complementary therapies for conditions like cardiovascular disease, chronic pain, mental health, and oncology support are also being developed by conventional medical groups such as the American College of Physicians. (1)(17)(20)(26) These developments bode well for the future of integrative medicine as a mainstream form of healing.
Did you know? At least 42% of U.S. hospitals offer integrative care to their patients. (30)
The bottom line
Integrative medicine is a form of medicine that involves a holistic approach to health and wellness to treat the whole person. It’s a patient-centered system that uses a blend of evidence-based conventional and complementary therapies to enhance care. If you think an integrative medicine approach to healthcare might be right for you, research the options in your area and do your due diligence when choosing a provider. If you currently use non-mainstream therapies, it’s also important to keep all of your healthcare providers in the loop as some medications and conventional treatments can adversely interact with complementary and integrative medicine therapies.
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- Bell, L. (2014). Integrative modalities. Cure, 13(2). https://www.curetoday.com/view/integrative-modalities
- Bell, I.R., Caspi, O., Schwartz, G.E., Grant, K.L., Gaudet, T.W., Rychener, D., Maizes, V., & Weil, A. Integrative medicine and systemic outcomes research: issues in the emergence of a new model for primary health care. Archives of Internal Medicine, 162(2):133-40.
- Ben-Arye, E., Kruger, D., Samuels, N., Keinan-Boker, L., Shalom, T., & Schiff, E. (2014). Assessing patient adherence to a complementary medicine treatment regimen in an integrative supportive care setting. Supportive Care in Cancer, 22(3), 627-644.
- Complementary, Alternative, or Integrative Health: What’s In a Name? (2021). National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/complementary-alternative-or-integrative-health-whats-in-a-name
- Complementary and alternative medicine. (2021). National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam
- Corbin Winslow, L. & Shapiro, H. (2002). Physicians want education about complementary and alternative medicine to enhance communication with their patients. Archives of Internal Medicine,162(10):1176-81.
- Cowen, V.S. & Cyr, V. (2015). Complementary and alternative medicine in US medical schools. Advances in Medical Education and Practice, 6, 113–117.
- Crocker, R.L., Grizzle, A.J., Hurwitz, J.T., Rehfeld, R.A., Abraham, I., Horwitz, R., Weil, A., & Maizes, V. (2017). Integrative medicine primary care: assessing the practice model through patients’ experiences. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 17(1), 490.
- Gannotta, R., Malik, S., Chan, A.Y., Urgun, K., Hsu, F., & Vadera, S. (2018). Integrative medicine as a vital component of patient care. Cureus, 10(8),e3098.
- Green, A.R., Carrillo, J.E., & Betancourt, J.R. (2002). Why the disease-based model of medicine fails our patients. The Western Journal of Medicine, 176(2), 141–143.
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- Horrigan, B., Lewis, S., Abrams, D. I. & Pechura, C. (2012). Integrative medicine in America—How integrative medicine is being practiced in clinical centers across the United States. Global Advances in Health and Medicine, 1(3), 18–94.
- Hunter, J., Majd, I., Kowalski, M., & Harnett, J. E. (2021). Interprofessional communication-A call for more education to ensure cultural competency in the context of traditional, complementary, and integrative medicine. Global Advances in Health and Medicine, 10, 21649561211014107.
- Integrative medicine board certification eligibility requirements. American Board of Physician Specialties. https://www.abpsus.org/integrative-medicine-requirements/
- Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on the Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine by the American Public. (2005). Complementary and alternative medicine in the United States. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 5, State of emerging evidence on CAM. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK83790/
- Kohl, W.K., Dobos, G., & Cramer, H. (2020). Conventional and complementary healthcare utilization among US adults with cardiovascular disease or cardiovascular risk factors: A nationally representative survey. Journal of the American Heart Association, 9(9), e014759.
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