Key takeaways

There's a growing trend of people turning to alternative medicine and integrative healthcare in Australia. In this article, we discuss why Australians are seeking alternative treatment options, what alternative and integrative health are, and why the integrative approach is the future of medicine.

In a 2013 study, 64% of Australians sought complementary or alternative medicine because of:

  • The holistic view of health that practitioners took - recognising that mental, physical, spiritual and emotional factors all impact health, including diet and lifestyle
  • The belief that complementary therapies were less harmful than conventional treatment
  • Having a preference for natural options, or conventional treatments were causing unwanted side effects
  • To have more control of their health, and;
  • Believing the therapy would improve their condition

26.8% of those surveyed were dissatisfied with their treatment in conventional care, and were looking for alternative healthcare that provided a more humanistic and individualistic approach. Many were seeking to be equal partners with their practitioners when it came to their health care, which they saw as an important part of their healing journey.

According to the survey, those who saw complementary and alternative medicine practitioners felt that they were good listeners and communicators, giving of their time, and offering better continuity of care. In contrast, when seeing doctors, patients often felt rushed, or that doctors didn't give them enough time. Furthermore, respondents said that medical doctors were poor listeners and communicators.

To this day, most medical appointments are around 15 minutes - giving practitioners little time to engage with patients deeply, whereas, in alternative and complementary healthcare, appointments can be anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours. 

Another reason why people were turning towards alternative or complementary healthcare is that some people felt doctors lacked the knowledge and competence when it came to their chronic health condition, and there was little or no focus on prevention through dietary and lifestyle factors, which in some cases led to the expression of disease after years of suboptimal health that hadn’t been addressed.  

What is alternative medicine?

Alternative and complementary medicine (CAM) includes a wide range of therapies that are alternative or complementary options to conventional, Western medical healthcare.

Examples of alternative medicine and complementary medicine include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Aromatherapy
  • Ayurvedic medicine
  • Chiropractic
  • Chinese herbal medicine
  • Homeopathy
  • Hypnosis
  • Massage therapy
  • Meditation
  • Naturopathy
  • Osteopathy
  • Reflexology
  • Tai chi
  • Yoga

The difference between complementary and alternative medicine

While many people use the words 'alternative' and 'complementary' interchangeably, there is a subtle distinction between the two. Complementary medicine is used in addition to conventional medical treatment, whereas alternative medicine is the term used for those seeking alternative treatment to conventional medicine. The above health therapies could fit into either category depending on the way a person seeking treatment engages with the treatment, whether as an addition or alternative to conventional medical care.

What is integrative healthcare?

Integrated healthcare, AKA integrative medicine, is where complementary medicine approaches such as naturopathy, massage and acupuncture work in an integrated way with conventional healthcare.

The integrated approach is the direction healthcare seems to be heading, with much potential to be the mainstream approach for solving people's chronic health conditions. This move towards integrated healthcare demonstrates the growing acceptance of alternative therapies not just by patients, but by general medical practitioners as well, likely because of the swelling evidence around diet and lifestyle factors contributing to illness, and low success rate conventional care has with patients with chronic diseases. 

By combining the best of both healthcare approaches, integrative medicine has a collaborative component between the patient and their healthcare practitioners, and places the patient at the centre of their care, with the aim of supporting them holistically.

This holistic, patient centred approach is the foundation of functional medicine, an approach to healthcare that seeks to determine the cause of a person's poor health to provide targeted treatments that restore health.

In our functional medicine clinic, our functional medicine-trained naturopaths work in an integrated way with a range of practitioners in the conventional space. We use integrated natural medicine approaches and collaborate with GPs, doctors, specialists, and other complementary practitioners such as Chinese medicine doctors and acupuncturists.

The benefits to patients are clear in terms of the holistic, evidence-based, personalised approach that focuses on resolving factors known to cause chronic disease. Hence, by combining the most effective aspects of both complementary and conventional medical care, a superior system for chronic disease management is formed. 

If you're considering this type of integrative care, speak with a practitioner who is experienced in these approaches to find the best care for your individual needs.

If you're looking for a holistic treatment that integrates natural medicine with conventional care, we’d love to help. To find out more about what functional medicine is and how we can help you reach your health goals, watch our explainer video, then book a discovery call to see if we’re the right healthcare partner for you. 

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{ "datePublished": "Oct 12, 2023" }