• A complementary medicine expert has written an article slamming integrative medicine in the Medical Journal of Australia. (Getty Images Europe)Source: Getty Images Europe
Integrative medicine is a relatively new field of medicine, combining the service you are used to getting from your GP with the expertise and knowledge often found in complementary therapies. But how valid can a medical practice based on herbs and alternative treatments really be?
Yasmin Noone

21 Mar 2016 - 1:29 PM  UPDATED 28 Oct 2016 - 11:20 AM

Integrative medicine is nothing more than an ill-conceived concept and a cover for unproven, dubious alternative therapies, according to an international complementary medicine expert.

The former director of Complementary Medicine at the University of Exeter in the UK, Professor Edzard Ernst, has slammed the practice of integrative medicine as a branding tool used to sell unproven alternative therapies to the public, in an article published in the Medical Journal of Australia today.

The academic physician claims that the field of integrated medicine, the fusion of complimentary and conventional medicine, is largely based upon the practice of alternative therapies, which he says are more myth than science.

“Integrative medicine is an ill-conceived concept which turns out to be largely about the promotion and use of unproven or disproven therapies,” Prof Ernst writes in the Australian journal.

“It thus is in conflict with the principles of both evidence-based medicine and medical ethics.”

Integrative medicine is an ill-conceived concept which turns out to be largely about the promotion and use of unproven or disproven therapies.

Prof Ernst also writes that the credibility of integrative medicine falls over with the authenticity of non-evidence based services on offer at most integrative medical clinics, like homeopathy.

In 2015, the National Health and Medicine Research Council concluded that homeopathy should not be used to treat health conditions that are chronic, serious, or could become serious.

“People who choose homeopathy may put their health at risk if they reject or delay treatments for which there is good evidence for safety and effectiveness,” Prof Ernst writes in the MJA article.

“Promoting such questionable therapies under the guise of integrative medicine seems neither ethical nor in line with the currently accepted standards of evidence-based practice.”

President of the Australasian Integrative Medicine Association (AIMA), Dr Penny Caldicott, disagrees with the statements made by Prof Ernst.

She points out that all the integrative therapies the article could have mentioned, it discussed “one of the least understood and least utilised in integrative medicine as his example”.

“The author also seems to have no real understanding or experience of Integrative Medicine as it is practiced in Australasia.

“Integrative medicine is a philosophy of healthcare with a focus on individual patient care and combining the best of conventional western medicine and evidence-based complementary medicine and therapies within current mainstream medical practice.”

She highlights that integrative medicine doctors are not the same as alternative medicine practitioners: they are GPs with additional training and qualifications to equip them with the skills needed to understand elements of nutrition, Chinese herbs and other researched, medical therapies.

“…Around 75 per cent of people use some form of complementary medicine.”

She says having trained doctors (either as part of an integrative team or working in communication with complementary practitioners) improves the efficiency of medical advice and reduces the risk of a negative interaction between various treatments.

There is often an assumption that anything that is not ‘mainstream’ cannot have an evidence-base. But not knowing about or reading the evidence does not mean that it does not exist.

Dr Caldicott also stresses that integrative doctors only use modalities and disciplines that are based on evidence.

“There is often an assumption that anything that is not ‘mainstream’ cannot have an evidence-base. But not knowing about or reading the evidence does not mean that it does not exist.

“There is a large body of literature for many forms of integrative and complementary medicine, many articles are in mainstream medical journals and other medical publications.”

However, Dr Caldicott says, no evidence-based medicine- complimentary or conventional medicine – is guaranteed to work purely because evidence changes over time as more research is conducted.

“There have also been many mistakes made in conventional medicine – one of the leading causes of death in the UK and the US is “preventable medical injuries in hospitals” followed by adverse pharmaceutical drug reactions.

“But that does not mean that we say that all pharmaceuticals or all hospital medicine is ‘ill-conceived’.”

Dr Caldicott says some medical professionals might be bias against integrative medicine because they are resistant to change. But that doesn’t mean the field is inaccurate, dubious or unproven.

“The medical students and young doctors are starting to questions aspects of the conventional approach and are keen to learn about other ways of treating patients and preventing disease.

“…Eventually we will not differentiate between integrative and conventional medicine.”

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