Integrative medicine models in contemporary primary health care

Complement Ther Med. 2011 Apr;19(2):84-92. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2011.02.003. Epub 2011 Mar 23.


Objective: To determine what models of integrative medicine (IM) are being employed in contemporary health care settings, and how and which factors affect and facilitate the success of IM in terms of the integration of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and conventional medicine in primary health care (PHC).

Design: Literature review.

Setting: Australian and international PHC settings, and hospitals.

Measures: Australian and international peer-reviewed literature identified from database searches, reference lists, desktop searches, texts, and relevant website searches (e.g., government and health-related departments and agencies). Focus was literature with the keywords 'integrative' or 'integrated' in conjunction with 'medicine' or 'health care'. Articles were analysed for descriptions of continuous and integrative services involving contemporary IM practices, their background, characteristics, and implementation.

Findings and discussion: Classifications of IM in the literature present various ways that IM can be implemented, and it appears that strategies have been successfully developed to facilitate integration. Although few of the barriers to the integration of CAM and conventional medicine have been resolved, concerns over the legitimacy of CAM in health care (e.g., safety, biomedical evidence, and efficacy) are being overcome by the use of evidence-based practice in IM delivery. There are two dominant models of IM that have been developed. One is the selective combination of both biomedical evidence and experience-based evidence of both CAM and conventional medicine. The other is the selective incorporation of exclusively evidence-based CAMs into conventional medicine. The two model types signify different levels of equity between CAM and conventional medicine in regard to the power, autonomy, and control held by each. However, the factors common to all IM models, whether describing CAM as supplementary (and subordinate) or complementary (and partnered) to conventional medicine, is the concept of a health care model that aspires to be client-centred and holistic, with focus on health rather than disease as well as mutual respect among peer practitioners.

Conclusions: The growth and viability of IM will depend on evidence-based practices, non-hierarchal IM practices, and identifying the successful influences on the integration of CAM and conventional medicine for recognition of its inherent value in PHC.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Complementary Therapies / methods*
  • Humans
  • Integrative Medicine / methods*
  • Models, Organizational
  • Primary Health Care / methods*