Even though there is a healthcare crisis in the United States, there are more choices than ever for getting professional help for healing injuries or illnesses. People have several options of practitioners, such as conventional medical doctors, alternative practitioners, chiropractors, and naturopathic practitioners.

They can also see an Integrated Medicine (IM) doctor, who practices a combination of conventional and alternative medicines.


What is Integrative Medicine?

This form of medicine holistically treats patients. Instead of only treating their illnesses by diagnosing them and then prescribing medications, doctors consider their patient’s minds, bodies, and souls.

Along with using traditional, modern medicine to diagnose and treat illnesses or injuries with prescription drugs, practitioners may use yoga, acupuncture or massage therapy instead of medications. Diagnosing and treating illnesses also focuses on nutrition and exercise habits as doctors know that poor choices are often the cause of chronic diseases.

This form of care is based on the definition of health by the World Health Organization (WHO), which states that health is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease.”

Doctors practicing IM can help restore the health and wellness of their patients by being aware of their circumstances and considering the physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, social and environmental influences that affect their health.

By customizing their patients’ care, not only can they treat immediate needs, but doctors also get a better understanding of the long-term effects and relationships between biological, psychosocial, behavioral and environmental influences as well.


Principles of IM

Several tenets help define IM, including:

  • Patients and practitioners work as partners during the healing process.
  • Any factors that influence health, wellness, and developing diseases are considered, such as anything involving the mind, body, community, and spirit of patients.
  • Using the appropriate conventional and alternative medicine therapies can trigger the body’s natural healing abilities.
  • Treatments that are natural and noninvasive should be used when it’s possible.
  • Conventional medical treatments are not rejected, and alternative ones are not readily accepted without criticism.
  • Proper medical techniques are grounded in science. They should be open to scrutiny and new paradigms.
  • Promoting good health and illness prevention is as equally important as treating patients’ immediate needs.
  • IM practitioners should commit themselves to learning more about their field to help patients.

CAM Therapies

CAM Therapies

Image via My Next Move 

Instead of one doctor knowing all the information needed to treat patients, most practices have different specialists who can treat the body, mind, and soul of patients. Some of the specialists in an IM practice might include:

  • Nutritionists
  • Health Coaches
  • Acupuncturists
  • Reiki practitioners
  • Guided imagery specialists
  • Hypnotherapists

Many of these specialties fall under the category of alternative therapies that can help treat patients will serious illnesses. They can be used to treat cancer, heart disease, provide stress relief to help patients relax before surgeries.

Integrated medicine is sometimes referred to as complementary and alternative medicine, also known as CAM. However, they are not the same, but CAM therapies do play a large role in IM practices. When primary care physicians work to manage care with CAM therapists, like those listed above, that is the cornerstone of the IM approach to healthcare.

Health Wheel

Many mainstream hospitals and medical programs are introducing IM practices onto their campuses, such as the Duke University Health System. The system now includes Duke Integrative Medicine whose experts developed a health wheel to demonstrate the connections between the body, spirit, mind, and community to ensure patients become healthy and not just free of diseases.

The Health Wheel includes three circles that make up the primary elements needed to develop optimum vitality:

  • Mindfulness
  • Self-Care
  • Professional Care


Being mindful of your health involves being aware of your physical, mental, social and spiritual conditions. When you have an awareness of them, then you can recognize symptoms of illness as they occur, which is when an illness is at its most treatable stage. Mindfulness is at the center of wellness and is the basis for the other elements.


Patients are encouraged to come up with ways to take care of themselves and create strategies to make improvements to or maintain their health. The areas in which they can practice self-care includes:

  • Personal Growth and Spirituality
  • Mind-Body Connection
  • Exercise and Movement
  • Nutrition
  • Physical Environments
  • Relationships

Each of these areas has an impact on people’s ability to stay healthy by reducing stress, preventing disease and living a more fulfilling life.

Professional Care

The early recognition of symptoms is important for diagnosing illnesses at their most treatable. Knowing when to seek professional care is also an important element of IM. Professional healthcare includes:

  • Conventional care
  • Preventative medicine
  • CAM treatments
  • Supplements
  • Prescription drugs

One of the most important areas of preventative and self-care involves proper nutrition. Working with nutritionists, IM doctors can improve and prevent many diseases by customizing care and nutrition plans to meet their patients’ unique needs.

Integrative Nutrition

Along with other alternative treatments like acupuncture, massage therapy, and yoga, IM uses nutrition to treat and prevent disease. Nutritionists use food as medicine to custom design nutritional plans to improve their patients’ well-being.

Before a nutritionist can design a plan for a patient, they first consult with them to answer their questions, address their concerns and find out their health goals. Patients may want to lose weight, better manage a medical condition or learn which foods are right for them to eat.

They will also assess the patient’s symptoms, order lab tests, learn their medical history and find out their food preferences. With this information, the nutritionist can start developing their food plan.

Along with creating a dietary plan to address the patient’s unique needs, the patient also learns how to plan meals, select and prepare foods, become more aware of eating habits and include supplementation in their diets.

Some of the medical issues proper nutrition can manage or address are:

  • Pre-diabetes and diabetes.
  • High blood pressure.
  • High cholesterol.
  • Digestive or gastrointestinal disorders.
  • Cancer, during the stages of prevention, treatment, and aftercare.
  • Autoimmune disorders.
  • Inflammatory conditions like arthritis.
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Migraines
  • Food issues like allergies or intolerances.

Nutritionists can also address other concerns or conditions that can be influenced by the foods you eat. By working with your doctor, they will also help design a care plan to treat chronic conditions or improve your health, give you more energy and help you live a longer life.

Education in IM

Since it is a relatively new concept in medicine, health professionals who have an interest in a more holistic approach to healthcare can take courses to understand better how conventional medicine and alternative therapies can be used to treat patients.

Duke’s IM center and the University of Arizona’s Center of Integrative Medicine, among other institutions, provide training for health professionals in IM. However, Arizona’s center also offers programs for medical students and residents as well.

While some coursework needs to be taken on campus, such as their Fellowship in IM, they also offer online courses that can be taken by anyone with interest in this type of healthcare. Any health professionals who take the online courses can get continuing education credits to show they are keeping up with innovations in their professions.

Through the online courses, people can learn about:

  • Anti-inflammatory Dieting – How inflammation affects health and how avoiding certain foods can combat inflammation.
  • Aromatherapy and Health: An Intro – It introduces how using essential oils can benefit users and help with health problems.
  • Breast Cancer: An IM Approach – This course helps identify women at the highest risk for developing breast cancer, helps students understand the environmental factors influencing cancers and introduces a nutritional approach as a way to treat it.
  • Nutrition and Cardiovascular Health – You can learn how dietary options can reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease and introduce ways to help patients make better nutritional choices.

There is a total of eight courses that provide continuing education credits and three others that do not. Some of the courses only take two to three hours to complete, but others can take as long as 20 hours.

Whether you’re someone interested in a holistic approach to better your health or a healthcare professional, these courses provide an introduction to IM and using alternative therapies or nutrition to treat and prevent diseases.

At the heart of Integrated Medicine is a whole body approach to treating diseases or preventing their occurrence. By using conventional medical treatments and therapies combined with alternative health solutions, a team of healthcare providers can teach their patients about using nutrition and other forms of self-care to develop healthier lives.

Patients can become more attuned to their bodies, recognize the symptoms of medical issues and seek professional care when a disease is it’s most treatable, in the early stages. They can also learn other ways to take care of themselves like improving their relationships or their living environments to improve their health.

The IM approach to healthcare not only treats the body, but it also includes treatments for the mind, soul and community for patients to develop the healthiest lives possible.

Feature image via google drgeniabraham.com