The Integrative Model of Health
Integrative Health is Whole Person Health
Your Health is determined by more than just the physical; shouldn’t your health care be, too?
Cover up each of the circles above in order, and ask yourself:
Can I ignore this aspect of my health care and still heal?
What is Integrative Medicine and Health?
Several definitions exist, but they all based upon the understanding that health is holistic:
“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” – World Health Organization
“Integrative health is a state of well-being in body, mind and spirit that reflects aspects of the individual, community, and population. It is affected by: (1) individual biological factors and behaviors, social values, and public policy, (2) the physical, social, and economic environments, and (3) and integrative health care system that involves the active participation of the individual and the health care team in applying a broad spectrum of preventative and therapeutic approaches. Integrative health encourages individuals, social groups, and communities to develop ways of living that promote meaning, resilience and wellbeing across the life course.” – Claudia M. Witt, MD, MBA, – Duke University Integrative Medicine
“Integrative medicine and health reaffirms 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 and lifestyle approaches, health care professionals and disciplines to achieve optimal health and healing.” –Academic Consortium for Integrative Medicine and Health
This chart, provided by the Bravewell Collaborative, describes the differences between a traditional medical practice and an integrative medical practice.
Integrative medicine puts the philosophy of integrative health to practice. It is both holistic, preventative, and patient-centered in nature. The focus of integrative health is wellness and healing; not illness. A diagnosis of a chronic health condition does not have to prevent you from living well. Taking an integrative approach can help you get there.
A key piece of integrative health and medicine is the inclusion of western medicine in an individual’s treatment plan and health care team. The Caring Ambassadors believes that seeking out the best medical practitioners and treatments for your chronic health condition(s) should always be the first stop in your journey.
What’s in a name? Read more on integrative health terms at the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health website.
Integrative Health & the Evidence
Integrative medicine is evidence-based, and an abundance of information exists demonstrating the power and effectiveness of integrative approaches to health. Consider just a small sample of the research supporting integrative practices and therapies that treat the whole person (visit the Research page to access the full articles):
- Evidence supports mind-body practices such as Transcendental Meditation as an effective strategy for lowering blood pressure, and meditative techniques have shown to be effective at reducing anxiety.
- A comprehensive meta-analysis concluded that mind-body therapies including tai chi, meditation, and yoga reduce inflammation in the body.
- A meta-analytic review found that people with strong relationships are half as likely to die prematurely as those without strong relationships.
- Religious involvement and spirituality are associated with living longer, better health outcomes and better coping skills when faced with a serious illness, as well as better quality of life.
- A 2011 trial found that conventional and Ayurvedic treatments for rheumatoid arthritis had similar effectiveness.
- Intensive, comprehensive lifestyle changes have been shown to significantly reverse some of the effects of cardiovascular disease over a five year period, when compared to a standard-of-care treatment protocol.
- Several studies have shown that acupuncture can help patients manage a variety of pain conditions.
- Massage can increase health-related quality of life while decreasing pain, nausea, fatigue, anxiety and stress in cancer patients.
Perhaps you are newly diagnosed and want to give yourself the best shot of achieving healing or preventing disease progression. Or, perhaps you have been treating your disease for several years using the best therapies western medicine has to offer, but your quality of life is suffering and your disease continues to progress. No matter where you are in your journey, taking an integrative approach to your health can help by treating mind, body, and spirit to optimize health and wellness.
Discover the Evidence
The Caring Ambassadors values evidence-based information and transparency. We encourage you to perform your own research prior to adding any integrative or complementary therapies into your health or treatment regimen. One excellent place to start is the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health’s (NCCIH) website. NCCIH is a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and applies scientific standards to the research of integrative and complementary health and medicine. Their “Health Topics A-Z Library” provides users with an easy platform for searching for and reviewing the evidence on a wide array of integrative and complementary health topics.
How to Take an Integrative Approach
There are medical doctors who, through self-designation or affiliation with a university integrative medicine clinic or training program, are recognized as integrative health practitioners. These providers can serve as the hub in an individual’s integrative health care team and are certain to embrace an integrative and holistic approach to health. However, providers who practice in an integrative health capacity or through affiliation with an integrative health center often are not covered by insurance, Medicaid, or Medicare, meaning hefty out-of-pocket expenses for patients. Additionally, most patients with chronic health condition should be under the care of a medical provider who specializes in their disease area. While integrative health providers may practice in a specialty area, most provide primary care and general medicine services.
An integrative health practitioner can be a valuable addition to anyone’s health care team. However, you don’t need an integrative medicine doctor to successfully take an integrative approach to health. You can take an integrative approach to your health by incorporating appropriate complementary medicine practitioners and therapies, making lifestyle changes, and addressing your mental, social, and emotional needs. We’ve provided you with information on this website to help guide you through the process of exploring an integrative model of health.
Are Integrative Approaches to Health Expensive?
Until our healthcare system’s reimbursement model catches up with the mounting evidence for the effectiveness (and cost savings) of an integrative medicine model, some of the best treatments for long-term illness will likely fall on the patient. Most insurance plans, Medicaid, and Medicare are unlikely to pay for acupuncture, a nutritional consultation, gym membership, or even a clinical visit to a medical doctor who practices integrative medicine. This is unfortunate and further perpetuates that idea that western medicine is the only option when treating long-term illness. It also deters many people from pursuing complementary treatments, including lifestyle modifications, because associated costs are borne entirely by the patient.
However, if there is one place individuals burdened by long-term illness should be investing (some) of their money, it is in their health. There is no greater a return on one’s investment than years added to life and quality added to years. Here are three things to consider when considering the financial cost of taking an integrative approach to health and healing.
Most integrative approaches are free or low cost: There is a misconception that the use of complementary therapies or any health promoting strategies beyond the standard of care is a luxury reserved for the wealthy. This isn’t true. In fact, many of the healthiest and longest-living populations in the world live in countries considered poor by American standards (think Sardinia, Greece, and Costa Rica). You don’t need to be rich to achieve healing and longevity. There are many strategies and treatments you can incorporate into your healing plan now that will help you tip the scales toward whole health…and don’t cost a thing. Consider:
- Daily meditation
- Quality conversation with a friend or loved one
- Skipping (or cutting down on) processed foods and fast food (a bonus for replacing them with foods cooked at home from scratch)
- Eating more fruits and vegetables (growing your own – even in pots – is a great way to connect with the earth and nourish your body at the same time)
- Yoga practice at home (you can watch free videos online)
- Attending a church, spiritual center, or support group
- Immersing yourself in nature for an hour
- Having a friend, loved one, or caretaker give you a massage
- Belly breathing
- Practicing forgiveness
Our budgets reflect our values and priorities: If you’re willing to spend $50 on dinner at a restaurant but cringe at the idea of spending the same money for a healing massage or acupuncture session, take some time to reflect on your priorities. If you want nothing more than to feel better, live longer, and rid yourself of as much of the impact of your long-term illness as possible, then you need to invest your time, energy, and some of your money in doing so.
It’s a wise investment: An investment in your health can pay off in spades. If increased energy, improved mood, fewer symptoms, the prevention of addition medical conditions, and possibly even a longer life aren’t enough to convince you, consider this: population-based, preventative strategies to support wellness and integrative lifestyle change programs for those with chronic disease result in significant cost savings to the healthcare system and the individual.
Hover over the different topics on the integrative health ribbon to learn more about that aspect.
All aspects of wellness are inextricably intertwined. Explore the loops of the Integrative Health Ribbon below to discover how integrative approaches can enhance your well-being and help you heal, no matter your diagnosis.
Remember, this is your JOURNEY; these are your CHOICES. Healing is possible;
how you achieve it is up to you.
The majority of people in the United States receive most of their health care from doctors (MDs or DOs), nurses, physician’s assistants (Pas) and other medical providers who practice in in a medical setting like a hospital, medical clinic, or doctor’s office. This system is what most people think of when they hear the term “health care”. The Caring Ambassadors Program refers to this system as “Western Medicine”. Also known as “allopathic”, “conventional”, or “traditional” medicine, this is the most common form of health care in the United States and the western world.
All aspects of health are connected—exercise can improve your physical health and have a positively impact the mental aspects of your illness. Developing an exercise plan and sticking with is a key piece of your journey and a component of your plan that cannot be ignored.
You are what you eat. This is a fact of life. Our bodies transform what we eat and drink into the very substance of our physical selves. Diet is one of the most important factors that influences health in our society. A healthy, nourishing diet can prevent the onset of many diseases, slow, halt or reverse the effects of diseases that have already struck, and contribute to a longer life. Every individual, but especially those fighting a long-term illness, should consider making a sound nutrition plan part of their healing process.
For thousands of years, spiritual practices have been an integral part of worldwide healing traditions. When you open up to spirituality, things may happen that do not seem logical or rational. When discussing spirituality, frequently the concepts of religion and prayer come to mind. Not all individuals take part in an organized religion or believe in prayer, but that doesn’t mean that spirituality is not, or shouldn’t be, a part of their life and self-care. So for our purposes, spirituality is simply defined as the unique connection between an individual and what they define as the source of healing. A spiritual practice can be spending time in nature, being of service to others, reading poetry or inspirational literature, communicating with ancestors, meditating, choosing to practice harmlessness.
Complementary Medicine is a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not generally considered part of western medicine. Complementary therapies can often help improve quality of life and health outcomes in individuals living with long-term illness.
Well-being is a broad term that means different things to different people, and for which there is no single definition. Several factors contribute to (or take away from) one’s well-being. A few of these are included in the below word cloud. These individual factors impact our emotional and mental health, which in turn impact our overall well-being state. The CDC describes “well-being” as judging life positively and feeling good. For purposes of My Choices, “Well-being” is a description of your mental and emotional health.
No one needs to face a chronic health condition alone. When people with a chronic health condition seek and receive help from others, they often find it easier to cope. Developing and nurturing strong relationships is one of the most important steps in healing, and it’s something you can work on right now to immediately benefit your health and well-being.
Chronic stress contributes to anxiety, obesity, and heart disease, is linked to mental illnesses and pain, and is also a risk factor for substance abuse. Taking control of your stress with relaxation techniques is an excellent way to protect your overall health by counteracting its negative effects.