In the minds of many in the dominant school of medicine, all of integrative medicine is frontier science. That bias often holds that the integrative frontier toward which one may sail is a chimera. Yet new continents have been found. Witness findings supporting acupuncture effectiveness and telomere lengthening through meditation. For integrative health, the frontier of that frontier is subtle energy and biofield healing. Spearheading efforts to quantify and advance science and action in this $2.8-billion industry is a self-styled “collaboration accelerator,” the Consciousness and Healing Initiative (CHI). CHI posits that the world they are mapping in their just published resources positions energy medicine as “the new mindfulness.” The multi-year CHI mapping project offers fascinating interactive journeys to 6,200 studies, 74,000 US practitioners, 250 energy devices, and a literal map that takes one to the location of 400 researchers globally who are examining these subtle therapies. Their goal is nothing less that systems change. They believe their work can be a model for all in the integrative health field who favor dramatic shifts in the health and medicine landscape.
The easy access by medical doctors to accredited continuing medical education in integrative medicine is an engine of the field’s growth. So as stories emerged of what was believed to be an Accreditation Council on Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) clamp down, I engaged a series of interviews and reports. I reported direct and indirect assurances from ACCME’s CEO Graham McMahon, MD, MMSc that integrative medicine is not being targeted. Yet a recent commentary from leaders of the Osher Collaborative for Integrative Medicine raised the question again. I decided to review evidence to this date. I cannot but conclude that integrative medicine is, in fact, at the center of the bullseye in ACCME’s recent push for new standards of “content validity” regarding “controversial areas”. Here is the evidence.
Amidst of the waves of information on local, national and global developments related to COVID-19, efforts stand out of a few organizations to capture and bundle content that targets the integrative practice communities. Among the entities that have established resources pages are the University of Arizona Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine, the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, and the American Nutrition Association. In contradistinction to the advisories of the United States’ federal agencies and state governments, these organizations have in common that their leaders believe that there is more that an individual can do than “healthy waiting” (sleep, exercise, don’t smoke, limit sugar) as the virus continues its course through their communities. Each organization directly suggests multiple steps that might be indicated, and the science supporting it.
When members of Congress established what is now the NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, they cared about whole things. Eight times in two pages, the new Center was charged to examine not just basic research or reductive trials on individual modalities. They pointedly sought to turn the NIH’s attention to the value of complementary and alternative “systems and disciplines … in health care delivery systems in the United States.” This shift of focus was resisted. The first director Stephen Straus, MD famously shouted down his former NCCIH advisory council member Carlo Calabrese, ND, MPH when Calabrese courageously asked for research whole disciplines and whole practices like those of licensed naturopathic and traditional Chinese medicine practitioners. All integrative disciplines urged Straus’ successor Josie Briggs, MD to focus her 2011-2015 strategic plan on “researching the way we practice”. Briggs showed interest but showed no one the money to engage these questions. So when the NCCIH’s current director Helene Langevin, MD opened the NCCIH 2021-2025 strategic planning process with a February 18, 2020 video-cast webinar by focusing on “whole person health,” there was, among many, a great deal of anticipation and pent-up-demand. What might this mean?