Integrative medicine is the junction at which all health disciplines diverge. It’s the place where truly collaborative healthcare takes place in a team-based approach to patient-centred care. It’s also a method of healthcare, that does not have to take place “after the fact” - but rather can occur throughout one’s life, in a proactive manner to prevent disease.
Integrative medicine means looking at the patients’ needs and cherry-picking those healthcare modalities that best suit them as an individual to address their current, or future health risks.
One of the fundamental flaws of the typical medical approach is looking at the body in terms of individual body systems. Patients are often referred by their “jack-of-all-trades” GP, to “specialist” teams for specific ailments. However, what this approach really lacks, is the understanding that there are interrelated drivers of health and disease, that cross multiple organ systems. Disease rarely occurs in isolation, but rather, sets off a cascade of events within the body that depending on a person’s individual genetic and lifestyle factors can alter the trajectory of their health.
One of the misconceptions of the integrative medicine approach is that it is some kind of “fluffy”, “hippie” or non-scientific approach to health care. Particularly because there’s an element of “complementary medicine” at the core of the treatment plan. On the contrary! Integrative medicine is practiced by all manner of health professionals, from naturopaths and nutritionists, to doctors, medical professionals, specialists, chiropractors and many more. Many health professionals are now building on their knowledge of biochemistry, their counselling techniques and becoming well versed in the evidence for natural medicine.
There is a movement now, towards a greater recognition that any healthcare modality can only get you so far with patient results if other aspects of their health are not being addressed. Aspects such as diet, lifestyle, values, education, environment, occupation, exposure, nutritional deficiencies and genetics are just some of the elements integrative medical professionals address in their patients.
The evidence in these areas of complementary and integrative medicine just continues to grow. You can now find excellent quality research into the use of herbal medicines, nutritional therapy, dietary intervention and even for the practice of meditation and yoga. These are all quantitative areas of the evidence-based model of healthcare. They are low-risk interventions with discernible outcomes to the quality of life of patients. The art then, is in the network of well-qualified experts in these fields that health professionals surround themselves with and refer to.
The demand from patients and consumers for this kind of collaborative approach to healthcare is high. The medicine of the future will no longer satisfy patients with a “Symptom X = Drug A” approach to health. The public are demanding an educational approach to their healthcare. They want to learn how to live better, be better and maintain wellness. Not just of body, but also of mind. They’re looking for a partnership from their healthcare team.
So, as I said at the beginning… integrative medicine is the future of healthcare.