Integrative medicine: the future of healthcare

The hot new topic in healthcare circles is a new development called Integrative Medicine - the gradual integration of traditional Western  (allopathic) medicine and complementary and alternative medicine.

Though Western allopathic medicine has made some great advances in acute care models, it has not yet found adequate solutions for the pandemic of chronic diseases that are ailing us. Scientists and physicians alike have come to the realisation that a lot of drugs don’t heal - they merely mask symptoms and can create some very drastic side-effects and increase other health problems.

"Management of chronic diseases requires a different approach with more emphasis on personalised prevention, health promotion and lifestyle interventions," says Dr Dawie van Velden, a registered family physician and part-time lecturer and researcher at the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Stellenbosch.

“Integrated Medicine (IM) is a healing-orientated practice that reaffirms the importance of the therapeutic relationship between practitioner and patient and that focuses on the whole person (body, mind and spirit) including all aspects of lifestyle,” he explained at a recent meeting of the the Health Products Association of South Africa (HPA). 

Personalised medicine approach

With IM there is a new focus on the systems-orientated, personalised medicine approach that is needed to transform clinical practice, education and research. Deteriorating patient-provider relationships, the escalating costs of conventional medicine, overutilisation of pharmaceuticals and technology, and the pandemic of chronic diseases for which medicine has yet to find adequate solutions are all contributing factors in this trend.

Across the globe there is similar evidence of an increased demand for an integrative approach that acknowledges Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). This may include functional medicine, lifestyle medicine, preventive medicine, and other approaches, alongside CAM methodology. 

For van Velden however, both systems have equally important roles to play. “Allopathic medicine is invaluable for acute surgical and medical emergencies, but many problems we are dealing with today are related to chronic inflammatory conditions and we’re completely wrong if we think we can treat these diseases with drugs alone. I believe that a new approach is necessary in the field of lifestyle-related diseases: one that encourages the patient to take more responsibility for his or her health."

Sharing of information and skills

The progressive concept of Integrative Medicine is firmly endorsed by the chairman of the HPA, Dr Alan Tomlinson:

“Our paradigm has always emphasised preventive medicine and the encouragement of healthy lifestyles and our main aim is to educate the public on the natural interventions that are available which can prevent chronic diseases through a heightened awareness of the principles that relate to good health practices.

"The HPA believes that no modality of medicine has all the answers to health.  In fact, we firmly believe that there should be a sharing of information and skills between the different branches of medicine. The practitioners of health and the promoters of health practices should be eclectic in their use of health skills, knowledge medicine and dietary products so that both the customer and the patient benefit.

"We are extremely excited about the emergence of Integrative Medicine which promotes the use of all appropriate therapeutic approaches, healthcare professionals and disciplines, to achieve optimal health and healing in an evidence-based approach,” says Tomlinson.

Chronic diseases

Both Tomlinson and Van Velden stress that the management of chronic diseases requires a different approach with more emphasis on personalised prevention, health promotion and lifestyle interventions - including diet, exercise, weight loss, smoking cessation, supplementation and natural therapies.

While some of the therapies used may be unconventional, a guiding principle within Integrative Medicine is to use therapies that have some high-quality evidence to support them.

“We must be careful not to advocate CAM as opposed to conventional Western Medicine, but to incorporate certain Evidence Based Medicine (EBM) Alternative and Complementary models into mainstream medicine.  Integrative Medicine is not CAM.  Neither is it an alternative to allopathy,” explains van Velden.

"In the future, physicians will match individual patients to the best diet, environment, nutraceuticals, and pharmaceuticals for their genetic make-up - a process that will eventually revolutionise medicine."

- Health Products Association of South Africa (HPA) press release

- (Health24, June 2011)

Read more:

Complementary and alternative therapies
Medical schemes too expensive

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