An integrative medicine specialist is a health professional who combines the principles of conventional and alternative medicine in his practice. In the United States, the title is not licensed to any particular profession: Physicians,nurses, naturopaths, chiropractors, and massage therapists may call themselves "integrative medicine specialists."
Integrative medicine practices can be found in stand-alone clinics and private doctor's offices, as well as in hospital settings. Doctors who practice integrative medicine often recommend an alternative therapy along with a standard medical treatment. For example, a integrative medical specialist might order chemotherapy for a cancer patient but also suggest that the patient take specific herbs to reduce nausea. A patient with back pain may be prescribed painkillers, but may also be sent to an acupuncturist for further relief.
The philosophies behind the practice of integrative or alternative medicine can differ widely. Because many doctors are reluctant to prescribe alternative therapies that aren't backed by scientific evidence, an integrative medicine specialist might be conservative in his recommendations. Such a physician may place a greater emphasis on the importance of the mind-body connection in health care, rather than on the efficacy of an alternative treatment to cure a particular condition. In doing this, he or she may rely heavily on practitioners who specialize in stress-reduction techniques, such as counselors, meditation experts and massage therapists.
Other physicians may take a different approach, and may themselves study alternative medicine. These doctors may then use the techniques of a particular healing modality in practice. Healthcare consumers should also keep in mind that an integrative medicine specialist may not be a medical doctor at all. These practitioners may have good working relationships with different types of doctors to whom they can refer patients in need of conventional medical care.
Some medical professionals express skepticism about integrative and alternative medicine. They claim that many alternative therapies are not backed up by good science. They also suggest that an integrative medicine specialist may provide alternative therapies primarily as a marketing tactic, rather than an attempt to offer legitimate medical treatment.
Advocates of integrative medicine argue that about one-third of patients have already tried an alternative remedy and it is important that doctors at least be aware of what the patient is doing and, if possible work with the alternative health practitioner to avoid conflicts in treatment. To this end, many of these physicians establish clinics in which several practitioners work together and patients are offered the option of conventional, general medicine as well as holistic therapies from that office's team of practitioners.