What is integrative medicine?

Integrative medicine is equivalent to holistic medicine. Basically, it is looking at all of the non-traditional treatment approaches. That would include homeopathy, accupuncture, aromatherapy, etc. It does not necessary preclude the use of traditional medical approaches.

Dr. Peter Bongiorno, ND
Naturopathic Medicine Specialist

Let's talk about the future demise of the definition of integrative medicine. My hope is there will be no 'integrative medicine.' Let me explain: right now, we are still teasing out natural medicine versus 'alternative.' Many of us still split medicine into two camps of 'conventional' and 'alternative'. When we combine these medicines, we consider them as 'integrative' or 'complementary.' My sincere hope is as we evolve and educate, and research more about the benefits of both types of medicine, we will be able to think in both a conventional model that includes heroic care (which can involve drugs and surgery when needed) as well as the more holistic, elegant and gentle model of natural care. When enough of us gain this ability to think in both terms simultaneously, the way some people can speak two languages fluently, the term 'integrative' may cease to exist, and we will eventually call it 'medicine.' At that point, I think the patient will be in the best position of all.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Many healthcare providers embrace the concept of integrative medicine. In this video, Dr. Oz explains what it integrative medicine is, and why more conventional doctors should be open to it.

Integrative medicine is a blend of traditional Western medicine and homeopathic therapies.

Integrative medicine is quickly becoming a recognized specialty in medicine. Integrative medicine practitioners often have a more holistic approach to health, taking into account a patient's mental, physical and emotional landscape. Integrative medicine also combines treatment modalities and recommendations from many systems of medicine. For example, treatment for back pain may involve a prescription for anti-inflammatories in addition to acupuncture.

Dr. Jill R. Baron, MD
Integrative Medicine Specialist

I define integrative medicine as combining conventional western medicine as is taught in today’s medical schools, with holistic, “alternative,” and mind-body therapies that include nutrition, stress management, energy medicine, acupuncture, homeopathy and many other modalities to optimize the health and well-being of the patient.

Dr. James N. Dillard, MD
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Specialist

Integrative medicine means different things to different people, depending on who is defining it. For many docs using the term, it is just the blending of the best of conventional and alternative medicine based on the research evidence. Some people emphasize the doctor-patient relationship, but that should always simply be part of good medical practice.

Some docs are using the Integrative Medicine label for their own branding and self-promotion. Some are even trying to coopt the term in order to own it in one way or another.

For the most part, Integrative Medicine does not exist. The MDs are doing complementary medicine. They are complementing their main-stream medical approaches with a few alternative therapies. They aren't really trained in these other therapies, and they will always neglect one or more of the alternative therapies, based upon their prejudices.

The patients are going to the acupuncturist, chiropractor and herbalist, but those practitioners are not talking with the MD. And the MD is certainly not talking with them. The supplements and vitamins are being prescribed by the home shopping channel or the guy in the health food store. The MD and the other practitioners rarely know what's going on.

So for the vast majority of instances, Integrative Medicine does not exist. It's a nice idea, but it's not happening, and it's not going to happen. The best we can do is to get our patients to keep records of the various things they are doing for their health, so that we can at least look it over for safety issues.

Patients will always try some new pill or run off to Aunt Millie's homeopath. That's okay, they have that right. But it's really hard to keep track of all this, even for the patient.

Five percent of Medicare enrollees cost Medicare 43 percent of its payout. This 5 percent of Medicare patients has on average 5 major medical problems, and they have on average 14 doctors in their medical records. Do you really think that all 14 of these doctors are integrating or coordinating their care? Even a few of them?

There are only 3 or 4 of us in the US who have the full cross-training to be able to actually do the integration of alternative therapies with conventional medicine for patients in our offices. But even for us, it's a challenge. So for the most part, Integrative Medicine doesn't really exist.

Dr. Susan S. Blum, MD
Preventive Medicine Specialist

Integrative medicine is a very broad term that includes any medical approach that combines a traditional or mainstream form of medical practice, like internal or family medicine, with another more holistic or lifestyle approach to health care, like nutrition or acupuncture. We are all unique in our approach. A physician can integrate functional medicine, acupuncture, homeopathy, herbs and/or mind-body medicine, and even though we each specialize in something different, we are all practicing Integrative Medicine. In my practice, I have integrated functional medicine, mind-body medicine with my Preventive Medicine training to create a completely unique Integrative Practice based on my training, skills and interest.

Most integrative medicine practices have the following things in common:

  • A whole system view: We view everything as connected, and look to find and treat the underlying causes for the symptoms.
  • A whole person view: We evaluate and treat psycho-spiritual-emotional factors that might be contributing to health issues. This includes assessing and understanding stress and how it affects health.
  • A food as medicine view: We put food first and use it as part of our treatment programs.
Dr. David L. Katz, MD, MPH
Preventive Medicine Specialist

The blending of conventional and ‘complementary’ medical practices into an expanded array of options for patients. There are many delivery models. My own involves working directly with naturopathic physicians, seeing patients jointly and conferring about the treatment plan in real time.

Dr. Raphael d' Angelo
Integrative Medicine Specialist

The simple, straightforward answer: integrative medicine focuses on cause rather than symptoms; and once cause is known, recommendations and treatment encompass the best of Western and Eastern medicine. 

How I see it: We have health concerns. Rather than matching every concern with procedures and medications, we want to know what the problems really are that affect us and what can we do for ourselves as the first step to fix them. There is a wealth of good information that can be drawn from. Most of my patients want a natural approach as long as it is safe and has a reasonable chance to make a difference. The best integrative medicine couples doctor and patient as a team.

Dr. Sarah LoBisco
Integrative Medicine Specialist

Integrative medicine is a combination of conventional medical practices with holistic and complementary medical systems. Instead of being "an alternative" treatment, integrative medicine incorporates the cutting edge technology of Western Medicine with the ancient wisdom of the Eastern Systems.

An example of applying integrative medicine into practice would be the incorporation of diet, lifestyle, therapeutic supplements and herbs along with properly prescribed medicine or conventional therapies. Naturopathic physicians are one type of integrative healthcare provider who are specifically trained in integrative medicine. They are one of the few medical specialists trained in nutritional and herbal drug interactions.

Ideally, integrative medicine provides a holistic viewpoint of the patient and focuses therapy on all levels of wellness, physical, emotional and spiritual. This is best accomplished through the collaboration of all different specialists and practitioners working together for the patient.

Dr. Andrew Weil
Alternative & Complementary Medicine Specialist

Integrated medicine is commonly defined as the combination of conventional and alternative medicine, but I believe it is so much more. In this video, I will explain how it is the medicine of the future.

Dr. Marina Johnson

Integrative medicine is a more inclusive approach to managing chronic illness. Several exemplary medical schools like UCLA, Harvard, Stanford and UC San Francisco (UCSF) have established centers for integrative medicine. There are currently 40 integrative medicine fellowship programs at medical schools in the United States. UCSF was the first integrative medicine center established in 1996 and defines integrative medicine in the following way:

“Integrative medicine is a new term that emphasizes the combination of both conventional and alternative approaches to address the biological, psychological, social and spiritual aspects of health and illness. It emphasizes respect for the human capacity for healing, the importance of the relationship between the physician and the patient, a collaborative approach to patient care among practitioners, and the practice of conventional, complementary and alternative health care that is evidence-based.”

All of our body organs and systems talk to each other and dysfunction in one system can result in disease in other parts of the body. Recognizing and treating the underlying cause of symptoms enables the physician to engage the body’s capacity for self-healing.

Dr. Jeffrey A. Morrison, MD
Family Practitioner

Integrative medicine seeks, through a partnership of patient and practitioner, to treat the whole person (body, mind, spirit and environment), to assist the innate healing properties of each patient, and to promote health and wellness as well as the treatment and prevention of disease.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.