Modern medicine has many tools and extensive knowledge at its disposal when it comes to diagnosing and treating patients. This was accurately put by the English writer Aldous Huxley, who said that “medical science has made such tremendous progress that there is hardly a healthy human left”. Meanwhile we’re becoming ever more conscious of our health – we know the rules of healthy nutrition, we know about the need for daily physical exercise as well as for rest and regular sleep. However, we also work more, so it’s harder for us to find the time and will to exercise. Paradoxically, because of the constant rush, we’ve also lost the ability to rest. We’re getting buried under numerous guides about dietetics, sports and psychotherapy, while our comfort of living continues to deteriorate. At the same time the average life expectancy in Europe already exceeds 70 years, and according to predictions it will continue to increase. A conclusion can be drawn from this that while life expectancy keeps improving, the same might not be true for its quality. We ignore the first symptoms of an illness and only visit a doctor when our complaints prevent us from functioning correctly. We may then be diagnosed with a serious disease that leaves traditional medicine helpless, or quite the contrary – our symptoms may not be specific enough to detect the illness. In the latter case, we’ll need to go through numerous examinations and symptomatic therapy.
A new approach to the patient is required in light of the aforementioned issues. Leonardo da Vinci already observed that “those who nurse the sick should be aware what sort of thing is man, what is life, what is health and in what manner a parity and concordance of the elements maintains it”. These principles are fulfilled by holistic medicine, also known as integrative medicine. Integrative medicine makes use of the achievements of conventional and alternative medicine – it’s where western and oriental medicine meet. The patient is treated as a whole – the mutual influence of organs is taken into consideration, but also the patient’s mental state, lifestyle, diet and interpersonal relations. Furthermore, the patients are active participants in the treatment process, and their condition is under constant monitoring.
Increasingly more research is conducted concerning the benefits of utilising integrative medicine compared to conventional medicine. One of the studies was carried out in South Korea on patients who had suffered brain stroke. It was revealed that patients undergoing an integrative medicine program had significantly lower risk of mortality 3 and 12 months after being discharged from hospital compared to the patients undergoing conventional hospitalisation. Another study was conducted on nearly 500 female patients suffering from breast and reproductive cancers. The women treated with integrative medicine declared lower fatigue, pain and anxiety, as well as improvements in sleep and appetite, and a better general condition of the organism. This isn’t surprising when it comes to cancer, since the methods employed in common medical practice result in a significant deterioration of the patient’s physical and mental state despite their efficiency. It can therefore be concluded that this is a disease where supporting treatment with oriental medicine provides the most visible effects. Work on implementing integrative medicine has been conducted in the United States for a long time, particularly in the fields of oncology and paediatrics. In the early 1970s, the term “complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)” was introduced into the public consciousness in the US, right beside the announcement of the “War on Cancer” by Richard Nixon. But CAM went through its greatest development in the 1990s, and after the year 2000 the term “integrative medicine” began to see wider application. Many handbooks on oncology therapy were already available at the time, such as “Cancer Care for the New Millennium: Integrative Oncology”.
Patients also demonstrate enthusiastic reactions to the holistic approach. A study conducted in 2009 on 1427 Australian women revealed that over the course of 12 months nearly 44% of them consulted one CAM specialist, about 30% consulted two CAM specialists, about 14% three CAM specialists, and the remainder consulted even four or more CAM practitioners. These specialists were usually masseurs, chiropractors, herbalists as well as meditation, yoga and acupuncture specialists.
If integrative medicine exhibits better therapeutic effects, then why does it continue to remain so rare in European hospitals? As it turns out, there are a number of problems with its promotion. The main one concerns the increased treatment costs: hiring additional specialists, conducting a longer and more thorough course of treatment that also involves the patient, performing more examinations and purchasing additional equipment. However, the treatment costs will be lower in the long-term perspective compared to traditional therapy, as has been proven by the study carried out in Texas. The patients who participated in it had fewer complaints about pain, which resulted in a decrease of the costs of administered medication by approximately 4% compared to the patients undergoing traditional treatment. Another reason behind the difficulties in implementing integrative medicine is the insufficient knowledge of the medical personnel concerning the holistic approach to the patient as well as the ideological barriers related to it.
Work on implementing integrative medical practice in hospitals has only just begun. There are however private medical centres that already offer holistic care. One of them is Double Check. In this exclusive facility, the patients can expect complex care that takes their lifestyle and dietary habits into consideration as well as their physical and mental state. Its esteemed doctors and therapists work as a team in close cooperation with each other and are supervised by a specialist in integrative medicine.
Integrative medicine looks to be the future of health care. Yet before it can be implemented for good, we have to take care of our health ourselves. I wish you and myself that in our everyday rush we can find a bit of time for sports, rest and tasty, healthy meals with our loved ones.
Gannotta R. et al., 2018, Integrative Medicine as a Vital Component of Patient Care
Roberti di Sarsina P., Iseppato I., 2011, Why we need integrative medicine
Geffen J. R, Integrative Oncology for the Whole Person: A Multidimensional Approach to Cancer Care
Adams J. et al., 2011, A comparison of complementary and alternative medicine users and use across geographical areas: A national survey of 1,427 women