Living Well Integrative Health Center

2176 Windsor Street, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. (902) 406-1500

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What Is Integrative Medicine?

A Viewpoint by Dr. Maria Patriquin 
Living Well Integrative Health Center
January 3, 2013

There is no consensus on precisely how to define integrative medicine. Universally, integrative care encompasses the principle of bringing together separate components into a unified whole. As one can imagine that can occur with various degrees of comprehensiveness and formality.

Integrative care is a clinical practice aimed at fostering communication and collaboration between varied providers in order to improve patient care based on needs identified by the patient themselves. It requires an understanding of wellness and illness from a bio-psychosocial approach and thus necessitates seeing the whole person.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines integrative medicine as:

“The management and delivery of health services so that clients receive a continuum of preventative and curative services according to their needs over time and across different levels of the health system”. WHO 2008.

A growing body of literature suggests that integrative medicine improves patients' use of preventative advice, helps them stick to a plan and increases satisfaction of their care. Research suggests that health states are improved as well as outcomes for chronic disease and that ER visits and hospitalizations are reduced.  It is seen as cost effective, enabling sharing of resources, avoiding duplication of services and reducing room for medical errors.

Integrative care promotes accessibility, collaboration, communication and simplifies management for both patients and providers.

So who does a patient seek for such care? Often it is family doctors as they are accessible, familiar and paid for by MSI. Increasingly the roles and responsibilities of the family doctor are expanding. The family doctor must wear the hat of expert, manager, scholar, collaborator, counselor, communicator and health advocate. Family doctors have a critical role in health promotion, disease and injury prevention, disease management and health surveillance. But so do other health care professionals.

A family doctor, regardless of how skilled, cannot be everything to their patients. In other words, patient needs cannot be met by a single provider. This necessitates recognition of the vital role that allied health care providers contribute to the care of the patient.

Integrative care is not unfamiliar to family doctors. Our training as students starts in hospitals which themselves are large scale examples of collaborative care. Without coordination and integration nothing would get done!

Although established to serve specific populations and communities, community health care centers serve as examples of primary integrative care.

My experience working in community health centers and a hospital based family practice has informed my position on integrative care. I believe the best patient care is conferred through an integrative holistic approach in which connectivity, communication and collaboration between diversified providers enhances mine as well as a patients’ understanding of what is required to make healthy choices and to achieve wellness.

I believe that care needs to be just that, "caring" and that compassion for our patients and our process as providers is at the heart of what can transform our medical care system from an illness based model to a wellness model. I believe that it is possible to live well with and without illness, the latter being an inevitable human condition.

Our center is the first of its kind to be established east of Montreal and I'm proud for it to be my "work home" in Nova Scotia. By being located under one roof it is my hope that barriers to care are removed. I hope that our setup will aid in enabling continuity of care and help our patients sustain healthy behaviors and lifestyles. It is my hope that this improves our patient care and that we may serve as a small example of how others may improve their own and their patients experience of health care… "Better Together".