Investigation into factors influencing roles, relationships, and referrals in integrative medicine

J Altern Complement Med. 2014 May;20(5):342-6. doi: 10.1089/acm.2013.0167. Epub 2014 Jan 17.


Introduction: Integrative medicine (IM) is a recent phenomenon within primary care practice. It is defined variously as a process of integration or convergence of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) with mainstream medicine or as the incorporation of alternative therapies into mainstream medical practice. Little is known about the attitude of complementary medicine practitioners regarding their place within this model or the factors that influence referral between them and medical practitioners.

Objectives: The aim of this research was to explore practitioners' perspectives of the theory and practice of the IM model, relevant to factors influencing referral among them.

Design: This research applied a qualitative method with semi-structured interviews to determine practitioner perspectives of factors influencing referral in the IM setting. One family practice physician (called a general practitioner [GP] in Australia), one osteopath, and one naturopath were interviewed at each of two IM clinics in regional Australia. Thematic analysis was used to identify themes and concepts.

Results: Thematic analysis of the transcribed data allowed for an in-depth understanding of themes and concepts surrounding practitioner perceptions of IM. Predominant themes centered on the notion of interpractitioner relationships and collaborations. Insight into these relationships within IM revealed concepts of interpractitioner trust and respect. In addition, sharing a philosophy of care and a common understanding pertaining to scope of practice and area of expertise appeared to support the IM framework. These concepts and themes were determined as important factors influencing referrals between GPs, osteopathic physicians, and naturopathic practitioners in the IM clinics studied.

Conclusion: This research has highlighted the significance of interprofessional relationships and multidisciplinary referral networks as pivotal in the efficacy of the IM clinics represented in this sample. Further research is needed to define the practitioner roles and the factors influencing referrals within IM.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Complementary Therapies*
  • General Practitioners / psychology
  • Humans
  • Integrative Medicine*
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Naturopathy
  • Osteopathic Physicians / psychology
  • Primary Health Care / organization & administration
  • Primary Health Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Referral and Consultation