Variations in Provider Conceptions of Integrative Medicine

Published in: Social Science and Medicine, v. 62, no. 12, June 2006, p. 2973-2987

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2006

by An-Fu Hsiao, Gery W. Ryan, Ron D. Hays, Ian D. Coulter, Ronald Andersen, Neil S. Wenger

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Consumers often turn to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and use it concurrently with conventional medicine to treat illnesses and promote wellness. However, prior studies demonstrate that these two paradigms are often not combined effectively. Consumers often do not tell physicians about CAM treatments or CAM practitioners about conventional treatments that they are using. This can lead to inefficient care and/or adverse interactions. There is also a lack of consensus about the structure and practice of integrative medicine among the various types of practitioners. This qualitative study aimed to identify key domains and develop a conceptual model of integrative medicine at the provider level, using a grounded theory approach. Purposive sampling was used to select 50 practitioners, including acupuncturists, chiropractors, internists/family practitioners, and physician acupuncturists in private practice and at academic medical centers in Los Angeles. The authors conducted semi-structured, in-depth interviews with practitioners and then identified core statements that describe practitioners attitudes and behaviors toward integrative medicine. Core statements were free pile sorted to ascertain key domains of integrative medicine. Four key domains of integrative medicine were identified at the provider level: attitudes, knowledge, referral, and practice. Provider age, training, and practice setting also emerged as important factors in determining clinicians of orientation toward integrative medicine. Dual-trained practitioners, such as physician acupuncturists, exemplified clinicians with a greater orientation toward integrative medicine. They advocated an open-minded perspective about other healing traditions, promoting co-management with and making referrals to practitioners of other paradigms, and treating patients with both CAM and conventional healing modalities.

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