What's in a name: integrative medicine or simply good medical practice?

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Abstract

Objective. Integrative medicine, a popular movement in the USA and Europe, is taught in many US medical schools. This study describes how Australian doctors define integrative medicine, what motivates them to work in integrative medicine and the incorporation of complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) into their practice.

Methods. Semi-structured interviews were conducted between May and December 2009 with 23 doctors in two Australian states working in integrative medicine. A thematic analysis of interview transcripts was undertaken.

Results. Doctors’ interpretations of the term ‘integrative medicine’ varied considerably. All maintained a strong belief in the usefulness of conventional medicine, while a holistic and patient-centred approach, promoting well-being, was central to their practice. Doctors’ motivations for choosing an integrative approach to their practice of medicine also varied, but personal and professional experiences of alternative approaches to illness were influential in this decision. The nature of their clinical practice was also diverse; few doctors in this sample practice or professionally use CAM; a small number were happy to advise patients on the use of different modalities while even less referred to complementary practitioners.

Conclusions. The concept and practice of integrative medicine among the doctors interviewed were diverse. This has implications for the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners inclusion criteria for the membership of their integrative medicine chapter. More broadly, the findings have implications for all medical practice and the education of medical students, as much of what integrative medicine doctors do may be considered simply as ‘good medical practice’.

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