While these terms are often used to mean the array of health care approaches with a history of use or origins outside of mainstream medicine, they are actually hard to define and may mean different things to different people.
- “Complementary” generally refers to using a non-mainstream approach together with conventional medicine.
- “Alternative” refers to using a non-mainstream approach in place of conventional medicine.
- “Integrative Medicine” is an array of non-mainstream health care approaches that may also be considered part of integrative medicine or integrative health care
A herb or natural health product may interfere or contradict a medical drug or surgery. When patients and doctors work together as a team, health outcomes are enhanced.
The future of healthcare will hopefully be more collaborative. Patients will be better taken care of when all the healthcare practitioners who are providing treatment communicate more effectively with each other. When physicians, chiropractors, dietitians, naturopaths, acupuncturists, psychotherapists, physiotherapists, pharmacists, nurses, social workers, dentists, massage therapists, and other allied health professionals talk to each other about what is being done, then the patient will benefit and our care will be truly integrative and collaborative.
When some new treatment is accepted by the medical profession, it has been thoroughly researched and tested. Even so, physicians often take years to accept new treatments. Physicians’ cautious mindset can be a defect, as revealed by history.
Take, for example, Ignaz Semmelweis, who, in 1848, introduced the washing of hands and using antiseptic procedures in gynecological wards. His new approach reduced mortality from puerperal fever by a factor of 15, yet he was ostracized by his colleagues who were offended at the idea that physicians could be carriers of death! So while we must not drop our scientific ways of dealing with new propositions, we need to remain open to new ideas.
When medical professions forget that human beings are more than symptoms and treatments, they undermine their work as healers. They can inadvertently cause harm. Many people in the healing profession have joined the trend back to a more natural, humanistic, and holistic approach. As always, the challenge is to synthesize and integrate the scientific and the humanistic. When everyone works together, patients and practitioners are a powerful force for healing.