The Empowerment of Individuals

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Practitioners of integrative medicine seek to empower individuals to not only take an active role in the own health care and be the ultimate decision-maker, but to also take responsibility for their own health maintenance. To this effect, patient education is an essential element of integrative care, as an informed patient will make better choices about his or her health and lifestyle options.

This patient-centered perspective is endorsed by a number of highly regarded health agencies. For instance, the National Academy of Sciences urges that, “Patients should be given the necessary information and the opportunity to exercise the degree of control they choose over health care decisions that affect them. The health system should be able to accommodate differences in patient preferences and encourage shared decision-making.” In addition the Academy promotes that, “Patients should have unfettered access to their own medical information and to clinical knowledge. Clinicians and patients should communicate effectively and share information.”

It may seem odd to remind health care providers to put patients at the center of their own care, but as the Institute of Healthcare Improvement points out: our health care system “has grown more complex and fragmented, and as providers feel more pressure to see more patients in less time, care has become centered not on the needs of patients, but around the needs of the system.” The Institute urges that patients and their loved ones become an integral part of the care team who collaborate with health care professionals in making clinical decisions and that the responsibility for self-care be put in the patients’ hands, along with the tools and support they need to carry out that responsibility.

To promote patient centered care and patient empowerment, integrative medicine clinics provide patient education classes and make libraries of information easily available to individuals and their families.

The Jefferson–Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine has an extensive offering on their website through which patients can learn about different medical treatments and conditions. People can test their knowledge about health conditions in a series of interactive quizzes, including a heart rate calculator, a childhood asthma quiz and an arthritis quiz. (

Aside from its extensive library of books and articles, the Continuum Center for Health and Healing at Beth Israel Hospital has an online offering of nearly 100 medical conditions through which patients can not only learn what the condition and its symptoms are but also what interventions and therapies are recommended and what scientific evidence exists in support of that therapy. (

The University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine’s web site offers information on medical conditions, drugs, herbs, supplements, and treatments options, as well as information on conditions listed by organ and body system, a list of prescription drugs and the herbs and supplements that may interact with them, and a section on conditions by signs and symptoms. (

In addition to its educational offerings, Duke Integrative Medicine offers a health coach program. “Coaching effectively motivates behavior change through a structured, supportive partnership between the participant and coach. The coach helps facilitate insights and clarity through inquiry and personal discovery,” explains Tracy Gaudet, MD, director of the Center. “A coach is like a ‘personal trainer’ except for your whole self. Any concern that gets in the way of taking great care of your health is the perfect subject with which to begin coaching.”

“Providing extensive opportunities for patient education helps empower the patient to be a full partner in his or her healing,” says Roberta Lee, MD, Medical Director of the Continuum Center for Health and Healing.