What is Integrative Medicine?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 07 January 2020
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Integrative medicine is a form of medical practice which integrates both conventional and alternative approaches to medicine. Practitioners of integrative medicine focus on using evidence-based techniques which have been proved useful in rigorous scientific tests, promoting total body wellness instead of simply working to achieve an absence of disease. Some medical centers and clinics offer integrative medicine to clients who are interested and doctors can take advantage of training programs at medical schools and in fellowship programs so that they can learn about the practice of integrated medicine, as it is also known.

A doctor can bring a number of techniques usually associated with complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) into an integrative medicine practice. For example, a cancer patient might be offered acupuncture to calm down before chemotherapy treatments, or a patient with a chronic illness might learn tai chi to develop strength in his or her body. Integrative medicine also focuses on preventative care and keeping patients healthy by improving lifestyle, diet, and spirit.

Conventional or Western medicine has been criticized for focusing too much on specific diseases, with the goal of medical treatment being the elimination of disease. In integrative medicine, doctors look at the patient's whole body to learn more about what is making the patient sick. They have access to state of the art conventional treatments to address medical issues as well as techniques such as bodywork, herbs, meditation, and so forth which have been used for centuries.


Quality of life is a major concern for practitioners of integrative medicine. The goal is not just to make the patient physically well, but to make him or her spiritually whole. For patients with chronic conditions, this can be an ongoing struggle which may be poorly addressed by conventional medicine, but integrating CAM into a patient's care plan can significantly improve quality of life. Patients may also establish deeper connections with their physicians and feel more involved in the healing process with integrative medicine, because they feel like they are being viewed as complete wholes, rather than isolated sets of symptoms.

The mainstreaming of CAM techniques was in part a response to increased patient interest in such techniques. Practitioners of conventional medicine wanted to find a way to allow their patients to access proved and trustworthy techniques and practitioners, and to show that they had an open-minded approach to the practice of medicine which included techniques from many disciplines and philosophical approaches. By creating a medical discipline which promoted CAM, practitioners hoped to steer patients away from unreliable and potentially dangerous practitioners of alternative medicine.



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