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Category: Terminology
Question: How do I find definitions and descriptions of the various types of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), such as naturopathic medicine?

Before you begin:

Many terms are currently used to describe the field of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). The major ones are:

  • Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM): According to the NIH's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) includes those health care practices that are not currently an integral part of Western medicine. The terms "alternative" and "complementary" originated to describe complete systems of care or specific practices, which were outside of conventional health care and not taught in US medical schools. Today the term is less descriptive because many of these systems and practices are widely used by the public and are entering mainstream health care delivery systems. Some CAM disciplines also incorporate many practices of Western medicine, depending on patient need. Examples of complete CAM systems of care are Naturopathic medicine and Traditional Chinese medicine. Examples of specific CAM modalities are physical medicine and massage, botanical medicine and nutrition. Nursing, public health and family medicine are philosophically the closest branches of Western medicine to CAM. Holistic and natural medicine are related terms.

  • Western or conventional Medicine: Western or conventional medicine is medicine practiced by holders of an MD (medical doctor) degree, some of whom may also practice complementary and alternative medicine.

  • Traditional and Indigenous Medicine: Traditional and indigenous medical systems are complete systems of care that are rooted in the traditions of a society. Examples are Ayurvedic, Chinese and Tibetan medicine and American Indian healing practices. This term is often confused with a usage that refers to practices of Western medicine as "traditional," in contrast to those that are "alternative." The correct usage, referring to indigenous systems of health care based on long-standing societal traditions, evolved as Western medicine became increasingly associated with biomedical or "modern" medicine.

  • Integrative Medicine: Integrative medicine is a new health care discipline being established by US medical schools seeking to combine ideas and practices of Western medicine and CAM. A less precise use of the term refers to a wide variety of health care delivery models ranging from individual medical doctors, providing an assortment of CAM therapies, to a team of providers, some of whom are licensed or trained in CAM health care and traditional medicine systems.

  • Integrated health care: This term describes a collaborative, team care approach between a variety of Western medical, traditional and indigenous, and CAM licensed health care providers. It implies a comprehensive access to a full range of health care systems based on patient need and cost effectiveness.

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