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J Altern Complement Med. 2010 Sep;16(9):945-50. doi: 10.1089/acm.2009.0437.

Integrative medicine: enhancing quality in primary health care.

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  • 1The Education for Practice Institute, Charles Sturt University, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.



Integrative medicine (IM) is an emerging model of health care in Australia. However, little is known about the contribution that IM makes to the quality of health care. The aim of the research was to understand the contribution IM can make to the quality of primary care practices from the perspectives of consumers and providers of IM.


This interpretive research used hermeneutic phenomenology to understand meanings and significance that patients and practitioners attach to their experiences of IM. Various qualitative research techniques were used: case studies; focus groups; and key informant interviews. Data sets were generated from interview transcripts and field notes. Data analysis consisted of repeatedly reading and examining the data sets for what they revealed about experiences of health care and health outcomes, and constantly comparing these to allow themes and patterns to emerge.


The setting for this research was Australian IM clinics where general medical practitioners and CAM practitioners were co-located.


From the perspective of patients and practitioners, IM: (1) provided authentically patient-centered care; (2) filled gaps in treatment effectiveness, particularly for certain patient populations (those with complex, chronic health conditions, those seeking an alternative to pharmaceutical health care, and those seeking health promotion and illness prevention); and (3) enhanced the safety of primary health care (because IM retained a general medical practitioner as the primary contact practitioner and because IM used strategies to increase disclosure of treatments between practitioners).


According to patients and practitioners, IM enhanced the quality of primary health care through its provision of health care that was patient-centered, effective (particularly for chronic health conditions, nonpharmaceutical treatments, and health promotion) and safe.

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