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Volume 11 Issue 2
July/August 2005

Integrative Medicine:
Where Conventional Meets Alternative for Truly Wholistic Medicine

Bread—The Staff of Life, or Not?

A Good Laugh Helps us Face Our Problems with Renewed Energy and Courage © 2004

Turn Stress Into Success by Rewriting Your Subconscious Beliefs: The Benefits of Psych-K™

Thoughts on Death and Dying: An Evening with Spiritual Teacher, Sylvia E. Browne

Editorial

Integrative Medicine:
Where Conventional Meets Alternative for Truly Wholistic Medicine

by Louise Gagné, MD
Naomi Lepage


There is a new approach to healthcare emerging across North America—it is called Integrative Medicine. Its concepts are at once new and ancient. Practitioners of Integrative Medicine aim to offer patients the best of both worlds, using treatments from conventional and alternative medicine. This is truly wholistic medicine that focuses on physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness.

Integrative Medicine has developed in response to a growing interest in complementary and alternative
therapies and an increasing awareness of the limitations of conventional medicine. Growing numbers of people are using nutritional therapies, homeopathy, acupuncture, and botanical medicines. People use these therapies for many reasons—hoping the therapies will have fewer side effects and be more effective or less costly than conventional approaches. Perhaps most importantly, many people also state that they seek out alternative treatments because these therapies are more aligned with their personal philosophy of health and healing.

The integrative approach involves a shift in the doctor-patient relationship toward a trusting partnership, a different kind of medical history, and an emphasis on healing the whole person rather than focusing on disease symptoms. The treatment is tailored to the individual and respects the patient’s beliefs and cultural background. Above all, Integrative Medicine emphasizes prevention of disease and enhancing the body’s natural ability to heal.

So what happens at an Integrative Medicine consultation? First of all, patients are asked about their goals for the visit. They might also be invited to briefly describe the story of their life or the story of their illness. A number of open-ended questions are explored, such as: What do you do to relax? What are the major stresses in your life? Do you have any religious or spiritual practices that are important to you? What brings meaning and purpose to your life? How has your disease affected your life? Detailed information is also gathered about past medical history, family history, relationships, diet, exercise, and sleep habits. Patients are asked to list all medicines, vitamins, supplements, herbs, or homeopathic products they are taking. Once this information is shared, the patient and physician begin to work together on a healing plan.

Here are two examples that demonstrate an integrative approach to medical care: Scenario #1—A man’s hand is severed in an accident. Such an individual would greatly benefit from immediate care by the best of the conventional medical system. A team of surgeons would work for hours to reattach his hand. Intravenous fluids, anesthetics, and antibiotics would be given. In this situation, alternative medicine could play an important supportive role. Acupuncture could be used to help relieve pain and nausea. Guided imagery and nutritional therapies might help to speed the healing process. Scenario #2—A woman is disabled by the pain of osteoarthritis. In this case, conventional medicine doesn’t offer a dramatic cure and the usual therapies can have significant risks. This patient might be advised to try an anti-inflammatory diet, along with natural anti-inflammatory supplements and botanical medicines. An elimination diet might be undertaken. Mind/body techniques, such as journalling or meditation, could be explored. Such an approach might allow the patient to cut down on her use of arthritis medications and improve her quality of life.

Until recently health care delivery has often been fragmented: individuals obtain certain services from the conventional medical system and obtain a separate set of services from a variety of alternative health providers. Typically there has been very little communication between these two worlds. For instance, patients do not disclose information to their doctor about the herbs they may be taking and doctors do not ask. Doctors are generally not familiar with many natural healing therapies. Integrative medicine allows physicians to become familiar with current research in alternative medicine, to build this training into their medical practice, and to work collaboratively with other alternative health practitioners.

Centres such as the University of Arizona and Columbia University in New York City, have led the way in the movement to revolutionize medical training and change the way health care is delivered. Specialized training is available now for physicians who wish to study Integrative Medicine. The University of Arizona was the first in North America to offer a two-year fellowship program in Integrative Medicine, which has now trained over 120 physicians and several nurse practitioners. The program offers in-depth training in nutrition, botanical medicine, and mind/body medicine. Other areas of study include: motivational interviewing and the role of culture, ceremony, and spirituality in health. The program also provides an introduction to the study of Traditional Chinese Medicine, homeopathy, and energy medicine.

The University of Arizona Program in Integrative Medicine has recently begun offering online learning modules in areas such as nutrition and cardiovascular health, foundations of botanical medicine, asthma, women’s health, and depression. These modules are designed for health practitioners but are accessible to all interested learners. The University of Arizona and Columbia University also co-sponsor an annual Nutrition and Health conference in Tucson, Arizona. This conference has been wildly popular and is attended by a wide cross-section of health care practitioners.

Many graduates from Integrative Medicine training programs are now spearheading the development of integrative health centres. These centres typically offer a wide range of services including integrative medical assessments, nutritional counselling, mind/body programs (such as guided imagery and meditation), massage, acupuncture, energy medicine (such as Reiki), and botanical medicine consultations. Medical schools are also slowly changing the way they are training new physicians. Many schools are incorporating the teaching of alternative and complementary therapies into their curricula.

I am excited about the coming together of the two worlds of alternative and conventional medicine. Thirty years ago I was living in the countryside and spending time gathering and studying wild medicinal plants. Integrative medicine has now offered me the opportunity to return to my roots! I am looking forward to further studies in this area.


An abridged version of this article was first printed in the Spring, 2005 (Vol. 41, #1) issue of Focus—the newsletter of the Saskatoon Community Clinic, and is hereby reprinted with their permission.

Dr. Louise Gagné, a family physician in Saskatoon, recently completed a two-year fellowship in Integrative Medicine from the University of Arizona, USA. She has a long-standing interest in preventive medicine and natural healing therapies. For more information about the University of Arizona’s Program in Integrative Medicine please visit: http://integrativemedicine.arizona.edu and for more information on Dr. Andrew Weil visit his website: www.drweil.com.

 

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