Integrative medicine is an approach to care that puts the patient at the center and addresses the full range of physical, emotional, mental, social, spiritual and environmental influences that affect a person’s health. Employing a personalized strategy that considers the patient’s unique conditions, needs and circumstances, it uses the most appropriate interventions from an array of scientific disciplines to heal illness and disease and help people regain and maintain optimum health.
Integrative medicine is grounded in the definition of health. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” 1
Integrative medicine seeks to restore and maintain health and wellness across a person’s lifespan by understanding the patient’s unique set of circumstances and addressing the full range of physical, emotional, mental, social, spiritual and environmental influences that affect health. 2 Through personalizing care, integrative medicine goes beyond the treatment of symptoms to address all the causes of an illness. In doing so, the patient’s immediate health needs as well as the effects of the long-term and complex interplay between biological, behavioral, psychosocial and environmental influences are taken into account. 3
Integrative medicine is not the same as alternative medicine, which refers to an approach to healing that is utilized in place of conventional therapies, or complementary medicine, which refers to healing modalities that are used to complement allopathic approaches. If the defining principles are applied, care can be integrative regardless of which modalities are utilized.
The defining principles of integrative medicine are:
In addition to addressing and handling the immediate health problem(s) as well as the deeper causes of the disease or illness, integrative medicine strategies also focus on prevention and foster the development of healthy behaviors and skills for effective self-care that patients can use throughout their lives. 4