With the field’s steady ascent we’ve witnessed a continual decline in its nonbelievers.
As a 25-year cancer patient who implemented a successful integrative oncology regimen soon after diagnosis, I have witnessed—up close and personal—the inexorable march and development of integrative medicine.
Since launching FON and joining the integrative health industry full time, I have written extensively on both the business challenges and opportunities present in the field today. Thanks to Google Alerts and select LinkedIn Groups, I do a lot of “listening” and pay close attention to the chatter of skeptics who make it their daily mission to warn patients, caregivers and the medical community of the potential dangers lurking in the largely unregulated field of “alternative medicine”.
The role these skeptics play in facilitating consumer awareness is important considering that some consumers make precarious choices when confronting serious diagnoses, especially cancer. Many consumers are unaware of the contraindications posed by the introduction of certain natural agents to their drug regimen. Choosing an alternative approach over proven, curative, standard of care modalities, often proves fatal. That said, receiving full and accurate information is paramount and separating fact from fiction is essential. Therein lays the conundrum.
Integrative Health and Medicine is not “Alternative Medicine”
The extent to which some cynics try to conflate “alternative medicine” with the core tenets of integrative health and medicine—i.e., nutrition, stress reduction and physical activity—does a great disservice to health consumers. Thankfully today the tide has turned; their fight’s evermore futile and their numbers are dwindling. This is because…
We’re now at the tipping point beyond which integrative health and medicine—specifically health creation—is fast-becoming the standard of ‘health delivery’ care.
ACA 1.0 is Just the Beginning
ACA 1.0, as I like to call it, with its ACOs, PCMHs and anti-discrimination language, is really just the beginning. A further shift from a culture of chronic disease care to one of health creation is absolutely essential. Fortunately we are steadily and persistently moving forward in this direction.
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This is clearly evident in the steady increase of major academic institutions offering integrative health curricula and in the expansion of integrative medicine clinical services available at these institutions, scores of hospital systems and hundreds of private centers.
This phenomenon is fueled by growing patient demand and an emerging cadre of integrative-trained clinicians. Patients across the spectrum of conditions and pathologies consistently experience quality outcomes vis-à-vis these services delivered by a wide range of licensed integrative health disciplines. It works and the field grows. It’s that simple.
An Evolution, Not a Rebrand
These skeptics darkly describe a continuous ‘rebranding’ of the field: from alternative medicine, to complementary alternative medicine (CAM) to the integrative health and medicine field of today. It’s not a rebranding. It’s an evolution. Some view it more like a revolution. This is about patient-centered health creation and self-efficacy. It’s the natural progression towards greater population health.
Naysayers declare that nutrition and exercise are neither “alternative” nor “integrative”; that they’ve always been part and parcel of “plain medicine”; that integrative and lifestyle medicine physicians are “co-opting conventional medicine!” The truth is that a mere fifty years ago our food was largely unadulterated, grown in fertile soil and much more nutritious. People were generally more active and doctors were teachers (”teacher” actually comes from the Latin word for doctor”). Unfortunately “the teaching” aspect is largely missing today and nutrition, exercise and psycho-social counseling play no central role in the practice of conventional medicine.
Physicians practicing within traditional third-party payer (and Medicare) systems are not incentivized to deliver the basics of lifestyle medicine: nutrition, physical activity and stress reduction. Many even lack the applicable knowledge and medical training. That these key health elements are largely absent in “plain old medicine” delivery today is beyond ludicrous.
I have intentionally not called out by name the leading cynics of integrative health and medicine. They know who they are and I’m sure they’ll read this piece with contempt and offer impassioned retorts. No big deal. It won’t be the first time I’ve been in their crosshairs.
A Greatly Needed Redirection of Energy
My hope is that moving forward the cynics will bellyache less about the sanctity of hallowed centers of academia and “their wholesale corruption by those who offer integrative health and medicine programs and clinical interventions to meet population demand”. I wholeheartedly wish that sooner rather than later they’ll come to the realization that integrative and lifestyle educational programs along with clinical interventions are highly valuable in shaping the necessary behavioral change for promoting health creation.
Perhaps they’ll refocus their energies on the real perpetuators of medical quackery: those unprincipled charlatans who often rob their patients of life and treasure with ineffective or dangerous products, agents, interventions or ideology in lieu of proven curative and often life-saving standard of care interventions.
I would like to see better attention paid to the contraindications between natural and formulated pharma agents, or a deeper scientific dive into the controversy surrounding antioxidant adjuvant chemotherapy and radiation therapy, and, um, less on whether acupuncture works or if Reiki’s really helpful with reducing stress and anxiety. Clearly, if patients benefit and there are no significant safety concerns, who really cares exactly how they work? (I’m not implying that scientists should stop investigating these matters. I’m emphasizing the primacy of favorable patient outcomes.)
Even if some health consumers benefit by simply leveraging a powerful placebo effect to reduce their pain, stress, anxiety or nausea, exactly what’s the harm? Just because some health creation programs, processes and interventions (especially those based on whole systems) do not perfectly align with the traditional random controlled, double-blinded pharma model of reductionist scientific discovery, does it cancel out the patient’s positive outcome?
Again, we need skeptics, especially in medicine, however, REALITY ALERT: the integrative health and medicine train has left the station. By all means protect consumers and inform medical colleagues about the dangers of unscrupulous alternative medicine peddlers, but beware that the ongoing confusion you sow—especially at this juncture—just makes you look out of touch.
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