Integrated system of medicine: Need and significance – Explained, pointwise  

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The Integrated System of Medicine offers promising prospects for comprehensive patient care. This system has gained significance as the Ministry of AYUSH and the ICMR partner to conduct human clinical trials, seeking scientific validation of the benefits of such integration in treating nationally important diseases.

This groundbreaking initiative marks a crucial step towards understanding the effectiveness of combined therapies. Thus, underscoring the urgent need for an integrative, evidence-based approach to healthcare.  

What is the integrated system of medicine?

Integrated system of medicine
Source: Research Gate

An integrated system of medicine combines different healthcare practices to provide the most effective treatment for the patient. This approach blends “Western” medicine, with alternative or traditional practices such as Ayurveda, acupuncture, yoga, or naturopathy.

The aim of an integrated system is to treat the whole person – mind, body, and spirit, rather than just focusing on a single disease or symptom. This can result in more personalized, comprehensive care.  

Furthermore, an integrated system emphasizes prevention and healthy lifestyle habits, in addition to treating illnesses. The inclusion of different medical systems in an integrated approach allows for more options, enabling physicians and patients to choose the treatments that work best for their unique circumstances.  

What is the need for an Integrated system of medicine?

Integrated system of medicine
Source: Telangana today

Widespread use and increasing demand: Alternative medicine, encompassing Ayurveda, Yoga, Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homeopathy (AYUSH), has a significant presence in India. The country is seeing a surge in demand for AYUSH and alternative medicines, driven by increasing public awareness, the effectiveness of traditional systems, government backing, and expanding research and development.  

Global exporter of alternative medicines: India is one of the top exporters of alternative medicines worldwide, positioning itself as a global leader. Major export destinations include the United States, Germany, and France. The significant usage of Ayurvedic medications in the country is expected to increase by an astounding 50% over the next five years.  

Increased use during Covid-19: The Covid-19 pandemic led to a dramatic shift towards alternative medicines in India. Fear and uncertainty, combined with changing treatment protocols and shortages of conventional medicines, led many people to turn to herbal and Ayurvedic remedies.

Immunity-boosting effects and lack of side effects were key factors in this shift. As a result, the demand for various Ayurvedic products skyrocketed – for instance, demand for honey, chyawanprash, and turmeric in Ayurvedic stores increased by 45%, 85%, and 40%, respectively.  

The future of alternative medicine in India: The prevalence of alternative medicine in India will continue to rise. The WHO Traditional Medicine Strategy 2014-2023 emphasizes the integration of traditional and complementary medicine in universal healthcare. Apart from this, the AYUSH system in India is anticipated to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 8.6% from 2022 to 2027.  

What are the government initiatives to boost the Integrated system of Medicine?

The Indian government has initiated several measures to boost the integrated system of medicine in the country:  

AYUSH ministry: The creation of the Ministry of AYUSH is a significant step in promoting traditional and alternative systems of medicine. This Ministry was established to develop, educate, and research these systems, creating a structure to integrate them into mainstream healthcare.  

Partnership with ICMR: The AYUSH Ministry and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) have partnered to conduct quality human clinical trials. The aim is to generate evidence on the benefits of using Ayurveda along with modern medicine (evidence-based medicine) in treating certain disease conditions of national importance.  

AIIMS research: The All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) has been conducting clinical trials for years to assess the impact of Yoga and other traditional practices on various health conditions. Their findings contribute to the evidence supporting the integrated system of medicine.  

Centre for Integrative Medicine & Research (CIMR): Established within AIIMS, this center is the first of its kind in the country to conduct proper scientific research on yoga. It plays a crucial role in developing guidelines to combine mainstream and alternative medicines and therapies.    

One Nation, One Health System Policy: This is an ambitious policy that aims to integrate traditional practices like Ayurveda, homoeopathy, and yoga into mainstream healthcare by 2030.  

What are the advantages of an Integrated system of Medicine?

Holistic approach: An integrated system of medicine allows for a holistic approach to patient care, considering the complete physical, mental, and emotional well-being of the person, rather than focusing solely on disease treatment.  

Complementary treatments: Traditional practices like Ayurveda and yoga can be used as adjunctive therapies in conjunction with modern medicine, potentially enhancing treatment outcomes. For example, yoga can aid in treating conditions like migraine headaches and recurrent vasovagal syncope when used alongside conventional therapies.  

Cost-effective: Traditional therapies can often be more cost-effective than modern ones. Practices such as yoga require minimal resources and can be performed virtually anywhere, making them accessible and affordable healthcare options.  

Enhanced patient satisfaction: Integrating traditional and modern medicines may provide more comprehensive care, potentially leading to improved patient satisfaction. It may allow patients to feel more involved and in control of their healthcare.  

Preventive care: Many traditional medical systems, like Ayurveda and yoga, emphasize the prevention of diseases through a balanced lifestyle, diet, and regular exercise. This can help reduce the incidence of chronic diseases and improve overall health.  

Reduced side effects: Many traditional practices are known for having fewer side effects compared to modern medicine. Yoga, for instance, generally does not have adverse effects, unlike many pharmaceutical treatments.  

Supports the ‘One Health’ approach:  The Integrated System of Medicine supports the ‘One Health’ approach, which enables coordinated action across human, animal, and agricultural sectors for judicious antibiotic use. It provides a multidisciplinary platform that holistically addresses antibiotic utilization, thereby contributing to better health outcomes. 

Must read: One Health Approach 

What are the challenges faced in expanding the Integrated system of Medicine?

Despite its potential benefits, expanding the integrated system of medicine faces several challenges:  

Scientific validation: The most significant challenge is the lack of rigorous, evidence-based clinical trials validating the efficacy of many traditional interventions. For acceptance by the wider medical community and to ensure safe, effective treatments, these therapies must be subjected to scientific scrutiny.  

Regulation and quality control: Ensuring consistent quality and safety standards across traditional medicines can be a significant challenge, particularly given the diversity of therapies, practitioners, and products.  

Lack of trained practitioners: There can be a shortage of healthcare professionals who are adequately trained in both traditional and modern systems of medicine. This could limit the availability and effectiveness of integrated care.  

Integration into existing health systems: It can be challenging to incorporate traditional practices into existing healthcare infrastructures, including issues with the compatibility of electronic health records, billing systems, and coordination of care.  

Research funding: Research in traditional medicine often struggles to attract funding compared to biomedicine. This lack of funding can impede the conduct of large-scale, high-quality studies required for scientific validation.  

What should be done?

Scientific validation of traditional therapies: Collaborations between traditional medicine experts and scientific research organizations, like the partnership between the Ministry of AYUSH and the ICMR, should be encouraged. This can facilitate rigorous, evidence-based clinical trials to ascertain the effectiveness and safety of traditional therapies.  

Policy development and implementation: The government could take a more active role in developing and implementing policies that promote the integration of traditional and modern medicine. This could involve creating a regulatory framework that recognizes and supports the use of traditional medicine alongside modern medicine.  

Education and training: Medical practitioners should be educated and trained in both traditional and modern systems of medicine to allow for the effective delivery of integrated care. This could involve changes to medical school curriculums, or the development of specialized postgraduate courses.  

Global collaboration: There should be a greater emphasis on global collaboration, sharing of best practices, and collective learning in this area. Partnerships with international organizations, like the World Health Organization, could be instrumental in achieving this.  

Public awareness: There should be efforts to raise public awareness about the potential benefits and limitations of integrated medicine. This could include educational campaigns to dispel misconceptions about traditional medicine, as well as promoting an understanding of the potential benefits of an integrated approach. 

Sources: The Hindu (Article 1, Article 2, Article 3 and Article 4), Live Law, Hindustan Times, India Today and The Times of India 

Syllabus: GS 2: Social Justice: Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health.

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