The proliferation of centers for integrative medicine

Having announced its official opening mid-2015, the University of Virginia (UVA) Health System’s Primary and Specialty Care for Integrative Medicine at Pantops follows a growing trend in medicine that brings complementary medicine and conventional medicine together in order to solve a long-standing healthcare issue.

A source of consternation in medicine has been finding the best way to empower patients Integrative medicineto have control over their health while also enabling them better access to information. Control is essential in modern care, since it ultimately contributes to disease prevention through patient follow-through of actionable health plans like diets and exercise regimens. Access to information is equally important since misinformation (or non-specific information) is rampant and can cause more harm than good to those who take a proactive approach to their care. For instance, although light U.S. regulations in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) has given patients the control they desire (Americans spend over $33 billion out of pocket for CAM), a lack of awareness has led to waste in areas that are unproven or lack sufficient research supporting demonstrable effects. Centers for integrative medicine stand to resolve this conflict.

These centers are positioned to move modern medicine in a better direction by changing the focus from pure contemporary treatments to those that also include CAM. By facilitating a dialogue, these centers allow patients to explore CAM in a safer environment where their primary care provider can oversee options that augment the patient’s treatment plan. This approach has been described as integrative medicine, or holistic healthcare that attends to mind, body, and spirit.

These centers are not new. In fact, the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center created one of the first integrative medicine centers in 1998. Since then, dozens have opened across the United States with each offering guidance and a range of integrative medicine clinical services from massage and yoga, to meditation and art therapy. The recent opening of UVA’s center for integrative medicine demonstrates conventional medicine’s ongoing effort to marry two schools of thought.

So why are centers for integrative medicine important in the long-term? For one, as researchers in medical science and CAM continue to publish findings on a regular basis, laypersons are having a more difficult time keeping up with the latest recommendations. Even in areas like nutrition, which has a rich history of supporting research, individuals are struggling to keep up with the latest information. And earlier this month, we described a change in the minimum requirement for physical activity in order to yield a risk reduction  from heart disease. Primary care physicians have their hands full as it keeping themselves and their patients on general health awareness.

For patients with specific conditions who can benefit from integrative medicine’s ability to augment their conventional treatment plan in areas like pain management, recovery, and stress reduction, centers for integrative medicine serve as havens to help filter misinformation, reduce costs, and focus efforts on treatment options that can truly improve a patient’s health.

Horrigan et al., Glob. Adv. Health Med. 1(3):18–94 (2012).

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