Opportunities Emerging for Integrative Health
This interview with John Weeks, a pioneer and leader in the field of integrative health, is an important read for consumers, practitioners, and students of holistic health disciplines.
MUIH: How do you define integrative health?
John Weeks: I define integrative health broadly and inclusively, as that is its nature. A good place to start is with three characteristics the World Health Organization uses to describe the foundations of traditional medicine and complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practitioners: a holistic orientation, a belief in the importance of balance, and a focus on health. As such, integrative health includes the dichotomies of reason and intuition, using both sides of the brain. It also includes the invasive and the supportive. It is fundamentally collaborative.
I see integrative health as organized via a therapeutic order that begins with one’s environment and self-care, and ascends, as appropriately, from the less invasive to the most. From a practical perspective, I see the integrative health community as extending from patients as individuals to include Yoga therapists, licensed acupuncturists, chiropractors, naturopathic doctors, holistic nurses, and integrative medical doctors, who are all working to advance models of care along these lines.
I also like the vision we established with the Academic Consortium for Complementary and Alternative Health Care (ACCAHC): “A health care system that is multidisciplinary and enhances competence, mutual respect, and collaboration across all health care disciplines. This system will deliver effective care that is patient-centered, focused on health creation and healing, and readily accessible to all populations.”
What do you see as the most meaningful “wins” for the field of integrative health over the past year?
I have been transitioning my energy toward less writing and more organizing in recent years. I say this because the exciting gains in front of my nose are linked to work with which ACCAHC is involved. The International Congress for Educators in Complementary and Integrative Medicine, which recently drew 350 educators, researchers, and clinicians to Georgetown University, was the first, major “horizontal” collaboration between integrative medicine and the licensed CAM fields. ACCAHC and the Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine were co-sponsors.
In addition, a federal agency established the National Coordinating Center for Integrative Medicine, with ACCAHC as a partner organization and two of our leaders on the steering committee. In this initiative, CAM educators are working to shift the content of integrative medical education to be more interprofessional and inclusive, which includes the fields taught at Tai Sophia.
Conventional academic medical leaders involved with the Institute of Medicine Global Forum on Health Professional Education are also realizing they need to “widen the circle,” as one of them put it, when considering which disciplines should be considered part of team care. ACCAHC leaders have had a hand in that shift.
Another point to mention is that integrative health is showing up in the development of the new Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute to make sure that the leaders of that quasi-governmental funding agency will be open to funding projects from CAM institutions.
Finally, something with which we were only indirectly involved, and in a minor way, is the work of Jeannie Kang, LAc, and the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine to make sure public access to Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine services are included in essential benefits, with successes in California, and already in Maryland, as I understand. Chiropractors are working in this area, as are some naturopathic doctors, massage therapists, and direct entry midwives. Mostly we see wins when we show up!
I’m also pleased that in ACCAHC, we are embracing leadership development as a key strategy and that many leaders in the integrative health fields know that they need to study up on how to be more effective. More are realizing they need to be the leaders not in just their own fields but in policy, community health, and medical payment and delivery. This win will be flourishing and visible in many ways.
If you wish to see more of my thoughts on this subject, you can read my 2012 “Top 10 in Policy and Action for Integrative Medicine and Health” at The Huffington Post.
With the landscape of national healthcare shifting, what do you foresee as the opportunities for those of us who are professionals in integrative health and for consumers of these services?
In the Pacific Northwest where I grew up, chamomile pokes its nose through cracks in sidewalks. In a similar way, the idea of organizing our payment and delivery system toward incentivizing health creation is beginning to break through the economic grip of the medical industry and its love of expensive and often unnecessary and wasteful surgeries and procedures. Opportunities are breaking through everywhere, as we’ve seen in the individual openness of policy and system leaders, and in response to the clear need to arrange things differently, less expensively, and more rationally. This work will only benefit from leadership of those grounded in integrative health, whole person, and whole system thinking. It would be good if we showed up!
What do you see as the most effective and powerful contributions of Tai Sophia Institute?
First, keep the health and wellness focus in your work. Enhance it. Clarify what you mean, get better at teaching it, research the outcomes, and help to model the integration of health and wellness with medicine and into our delivery system. Engage in the tremendous policy challenges surrounding this, the most important work of our era. In the integrative health community, we are not as good at both doing and translating this into broader practice as we often think we are, and as we certainly need to be.
Second, through the years, Tai Sophia has sometimes gone it alone, following its distinct vision. Those of us in integrative health are yet minor players. Collaboration is a vehicle for success in such situations. As Tai Sophia achieves university status, I hope to see you working with other universities in the natural health arts and sciences and the integrative health fields as leading-edge innovators in collaborative, health-focused team care, shaping future education and practice for all disciplines.
John Weeks has been involved in the integrative health movement for nearly 30 years as a writer, speaker, organizer, and executive. He has consulted on integrative health projects with such organizations as the American Hospital Association, National Institutes for Health, Institute for Health and Productivity Management, World Health Organization, American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner, academic programs at the universities of Maryland, Stanford, Arizona and Washington, health systems such as Deaconess (Indiana), Baptist (Jacksonville) and Franciscan (Tacoma). Weeks organized annual multi-stakeholder Integrative Medicine Industry Leadership Summits, raised start-up funds for the Integrated Healthcare Policy Consortium, directed the 12-profession National Education Dialogue to Advance Integrated Care: Creating Common Ground, and co-founded and presently directs the Academic Consortium for Complementary and Alternative Health Care. On behalf of ACCAHC, Weeks serves as an active, alternate member of the Institute of Medicine Global Forum on Innovation in Health Professional Education and on the steering committee of the HRSA-funded National Coordinating Center for Integrative Medicine. Since the mid-1990s, Weeks has produced the principal newsletter on the policy and business of integration, now via the Integrator Blog News & Reports. He produces related columns for Integrative Practitioner, Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal, The Pain Practitioner (AAPM) and The Huffington Post. Weeks attended Stanford University for three years, studying history. Three institutions have granted Weeks honorary doctorates for his work. Typically Seattle-based, for 2012-2014 Weeks is living with his wife and daughter and working from a home office in Rincon, Puerto Rico.