How far have we come towards integrative medicine?


How far have we come towards integrative medicine?

The majority of Australians regularly use or have used natural and complementary medicine and therapies. They are an established part of how our population manages its health. But as health practitioners, how far have we come towards integrative medicine?

Endeavour alumna and Melbourne-based Bayleaf Wellness CEO Jen Osborne says we still have some work to do together in Western conventional medicine and complementary medicine to reach a place where integrative medicine is the preferred model.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) defines the practice of integrative medicine as the ‘blending of conventional and evidence-based natural and complementary medicines and therapies with lifestyle interventions to deliver holistic, patient-centred care.’

As Jen points out, the RACGP has a special interest group for integrative medicine. They also introduced integrative medicine into their curriculum more than five years ago. “These are encouraging signs the medical profession’s peak industry body respects and values complementary and integrative medicine,” Jen said. “It’s an exciting time to be in the industry, but we’re not yet at a point where integrative medicine is widely understood or accepted.”

“In an earlier survey, the RACGP found that one-third of GPs self-identified as using integrative medicine practices. There is some great leadership occurring in this space. Dr Penny Caldicott is the President of the Australian Integrative Medicine Association (AIMA), and Dr Carolyn Ee is a GP researcher and one of the first practising medical doctors in Australia to gain dual qualifications in Chinese Medicine. Through their work with industry associations and other groups, these women are pioneering new approaches in integrative medicine.”

“In research, Jennifer Hunter et al identified that the practice of integrative medicine requires further investigation to overcome ongoing scepticism about it,” Jen explained. “The authors proposed an integrative medicine practice-based research network to build research capacity and generate high-quality research to inform healthcare delivery and policy. A starting point for this research network is AIMA and the Australasian College of Environmental and Nutritional Medicine (ACNEM), and other professional networks. These industry bodies represent integrative medicine practitioners or offer opportunities to engage with practitioners and clinics.”

Jen pointed out that there is a difference between taking an integrative approach and an integrative model of care. “After years of experience in the health and education sector, I believe there is great benefit in working together, combining our knowledge to help patients achieve wellbeing and supporting clinicians to achieve healthier work practices.”

“Some incredible teams are starting to work in integrative care models in Australia where GPs and other health practitioners, like naturopathsnutritionists, psychologists and massage therapists work alongside each other,” said Jen. “Here in Melbourne, Bayleaf Wellness is working in the same way. It’s a very different model because there is more consulting, case-taking and collaboration between practitioners to determine what’s best for the patient. But this also takes the pressure off the individual, whether they are a conventional or a complementary health practitioner.”

“In an integrative model, there must be mutual respect and collaboration between practitioners. Unfortunately, we still hear from patients who don’t tell their GP they see a naturopath because they’re worried about the GP’s reaction. In my experience, a naturopath or nutritionist will often pick up red flags in their patients, and knowing their scope of practice, refer to a GP if needed. Unfortunately, we aren’t seeing as many referrals happening in the other direction.”

“I’d encourage all current and future health practitioners to take a broader global view, reconnect with why they went into medicine – to help others – and think about how they can work with other practitioners to create a collaborative care model. That way, everyone wins.”



Hunter, Jennifer et al., “The case for establishing an Australasian integrative medicine practice-based research network”, Australian Family Physician, Volume 45, No.12, December 2016 Pages 925-927

RACGP IM16 Integrative Medicine contextual unit


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