What is Integrative Medicine and Health?

Integrative medicine and health reaffirm the importance of the relationship between practitioner and patient, focuses on the whole person, is informed by evidence, and makes use of all appropriate therapeutic approaches, healthcare professionals and disciplines to achieve optimal health and healing.

Integrative medicine combines modern medicine with established approaches from around the world. By joining modern medicine with proven practices from other healing traditions, integrative practitioners are better able to relieve suffering, reduce stress, maintain the well-being, and enhance the resilience of their patients.

Although the culture of biomedicine is predominant in the U.S., it coexists with many other healing traditions. Many of these approaches have their roots in non-Western cultures. Others have developed within the West, but outside what is considered conventional medical practice.


Various terms have been used to describe the broad range of healing approaches that are not widely taught in medical schools, generally available in hospitals or routinely reimbursed by medical insurance. Integrative medicine is a term that emphasizes the combination of both conventional and alternative approaches to address the biological, psychological, social and spiritual aspects of health and illness. It emphasizes respect for the human capacity for healing, the importance of the relationship between the practitioner and the patient, a collaborative approach to patient care among practitioners, and the practice of conventional, complementary, and alternative health care that is evidence-based.

Complementary and Integrative Medicine Use in the United States

According to the 2012 National Health Interview Survey:

  • In 2012, 33.2% of U.S. adults used complementary and integrative health approaches. This is similar to the percentages in 2007 (35.5%) and 2002 (32.3%).
  • 11.6% of U.S. children age 4 to 17 used complementary and integrative health approaches in 2012. There was no meaningful change from 2007, when 12.0% used them.
  • In 2012, as in 2007 and 2002, the most commonly used complementary and integrative approach was natural products (dietary supplements other than vitamins and minerals). 17.7% of adults and 4.9% of children age 4 to 17 used natural products.

Read the 2012 report “What Complementary and Integrative Approaches Do Americans Use?

Why are People Using CAM?

CAM is attractive to many people because of its emphasis on treating the whole person, its promotion of good health and well-being, its valuing of prevention, and its often more personalized approach to patient concerns.

Most people who use CAM combine it with conventional medicine, because they perceive the combination to be superior to either alone. Independent predictors of CAM use in one written survey were higher level of education, poorer health status (chronic pain, anxiety, etc.) and a “holistic” interest in health, personal growth and spirituality.

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH):

Funding for biomedical research in the field of integrative medicine has increased dramatically over the past several years. In 1992, Congress established the Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM) as part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) with an annual budget of $2 million. In 1998, it was elevated to a full NIH center and renamed the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), and again renamed in 2015 to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). NCCIH’s mission is to support research and training in CAM and to disseminate evidence-based information to both the public and professional worlds.

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04 May 2018

By Osher Center