A Broader Vision of Quality Care

An Integrative Approach to Health

Integrative medical approaches to diagnosis and treatment may be more effective, less expensive, and less risky than conventional medical treatment. 

The integrative community has made tremendous contributions to the health field, with innovations including dietary approaches to cancer, heart disease, and other illnesses, immune therapies in cancer treatment, the importance of gut health and food intolerances, and the benefits of supplementing a healthy diet with nutrients, herbs and other supplements. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) supports a significant number of integrative medical centers at major academic institutions around the country. Most medical schools now have coursework that teaches some form of integrative methods. There is an enormous amount of published research around the world exploring and justifying these methods. Integrative Medicine has been recognized as a Certified Board Specialty by the American Board of Physician Specialties.

Challenges to Integrative Medical Practice

Despite its growing popularity with patients, integrative medicine has been subjected to frequent regulatory actions by medical boards comprised of practitioners trained conventionally who do not have experience with integrative diagnostic methods and treatments. As a result, health care providers who utilize integrative methods have faced regulatory actions despite having gotten excellent results where conventional medicine failed, had no reports of harmful effects, complaints, or findings of provider incompetence following investigation. In most cases, the practitioner’s patients had enthusiastic support during treatment and were satisfied with the results. Additionally, physicians cannot get advisory opinions from the Board about potential integrative therapies.  As a result, there is uncertainty for the integrative practitioner as to whether an approach could result in disciplinary action. This causes physicians and other practitioners to avoid offering care that might help their patients.

Lyme Disease: A Case in Point

A Case In Point, Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses provide an example of the importance of integrative medical care. Lyme disease is an undertreated epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionMaryland ranks among the top fourteen states in the country for the reported cases of Lyme disease. Many people either have a family member with Lyme or know someone who does. It may result in death, disability, pain, and financial ruin. Research at Columbia, Tulane, Johns Hopkins, and elsewhere has found limited effectiveness of antibiotics singly or in certain combinations.  Integrative treatment methods are often superior to conventional treatment of Lyme and tick-borne co-infections. As a result, patients with these complicated illnesses often seek out integrative medicine practitioners. Although current integrative care methods are often helpful, there is a need to allow practitioners to innovate further with full, informed patient participation and agreement that other modalities might be impactful.