Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) has enjoyed substantial growth in recent years [1,2].
A commonly accepted definition of CAM is a "group of diverse medical
and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently
considered to be part of conventional medicine ."
Several studies have documented the widespread use of CAM in the United States, Canada, Europe, and beyond [4-7].
Until recently, the "typical" user was described as an educated female
of upper socioeconomic status. More recent studies suggest CAM use is
now common among the majority of health care users, and appears to be
greater among those with serious, chronic, or recurrent illness [5,8]. The World Health Organization estimates that CAM is used as first-line therapy by a majority of the world's population .
Given the multicultural society and large number of first generation
immigrants that many academic medical centers serve, it is likely that
many of these patients have explored CAM. At the present time, there is
a lack of information regarding how CAM is being integrated into
academic medical institutions, if it is being integrated at all .
Although many multidisciplinary medical centers aim to treat the "whole
person", with consideration given to emotional, social, and
environmental factors that may play a part in illness, most programs do
not yet integrate CAM therapies even if they have demonstrated efficacy
and cost-effectiveness [11,12].
While there are many definitions of "integration", for our purposes it
is defined as a collaborative team approach that includes both
conventional "Western" and CAM health care providers.
Our intent was to identify successful academic integrative medicine
programs and elicit their experiences and perceptions of their own
strengths and weaknesses, with a goal of advising the future
development of an academic integrative medicine program. The authors of
this study sought to answer the questions: how would one go about
setting up a new integrative medicine program at an academic health
sciences centre? What would be the important tools one would need? Who
should be the key individuals involved? To answer these questions, we
made a series of site visits to leading integrative medicine programs
operating at academic health science centers across North America.