Updated: June 20th, 2019

By Marybeth Missenda R.Ph. MS. CNS
Program Manager for the department of Integrative Health Studies

The U.S. is currently spending over 17.9% of gross domestic product (GDP) on healthcare (CMS, 2019). With this level of investment, which is more than any other country, we would expect to see greater health outcomes for patients in the U.S.. And yet we are seeing higher levels of disease burden in the U.S. compared to other countries in the world (Peterson-Kaiser, 2017). Patients are looking to complementary health approaches like acupuncture, yoga, and mind-body medicine for what they are not finding in conventional medicine. A recent survey of veterans shows that over 50% used at least one complementary health approach in the past year (Phillips & Reddy, 2019). Many organizations like the Institute for Healthcare Improvements, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Veteran’s Health Administration (VHA) recognize the need for a change and are listening to their patients who are requesting a more whole-person approach that allows access to complementary health approaches to support their health and well-being. As patients, we want our preferences, values, and beliefs recognized and included in the co-creation of our own health plans. Now it appears the system is starting to listen.

In 2018, the VHA initiated the Whole Health for Life program. They chose eighteen (18) VA healthcare facilities as flagship sites in the U.S. for implementing this whole-person approach to care. Instead of focusing on finding and fixing disease, the program shifts to promoting health and well-being through empowering, supporting, and building their patients’ skills. The program works with veterans to build a support network of fellow veterans to empower them to discover “what matters to them?”. This helps in the creation of the veteran’s own personal health plan which includes both well-being programs and whole health clinical care. Complementary and integrative health approaches are offered in addition to health coaching to support the patient and provide alternatives which align with what the patient values. This model puts the patient first with a focus on self-care, professional care, and the community support to create one whole care system.

One of the challenges for expanding this redesign of health care that the VHA has identified is the need for more complementary health practitioners who can work collaboratively with conventional medicine and help to address what matters most to patients (Phillips & Reddy, 2019). The door has been opened. It is now time to step through and deliver services and expand research in ways that reflect the holistic philosophies and practice of complementary health practitioners.

The VHA is just one model of integrative health that is emerging and transforming our health care system. Maryland University of Integrative Health has supported and contributed to new ways of envisioning healthcare rooted in its foundational principles that include recognizing the value of both personal and community transformation:

“People, communities, and organizations have the potential for profound and ongoing change. Transformation is catalyzed by the environment and receptivity to change.

The availability of resources and a sense of empowerment are central to positive transformations. Time-honored traditions assert that living in harmony with nature, cultivating mindfulness, and serving others are paths to individual and community transformation.” (MUIH website)

Maryland University of Integrative Health offers a Master of Arts and Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Integrative Health Studies which prepares health professionals to apply the theoretical and philosophical foundations of integrative health through application of evidence informed practice and traditional knowledge. Students also explore various models for the inclusion of complementary health approaches into conventional care settings and apply what they learn to real world opportunities for interprofessional collaboration.

Learn more on the MUIH website or join us at the Integrative Health Grad Fair on July 27 to meet with faculty.