Integrative medicine (IM) is a dynamic and increasingly prevalent model of primary health care that combines complementary and alternative medicine with mainstream medicine. This research is about the practice of IM and its value to primary health care in Australia. It locates IM within Australian health care by revealing its processes and outcomes in terms of: practice styles, interactions between practitioners and clients and among practitioners, range of diagnostic and treatment options, and health benefits. In this research I examine the nature of
integrative medicine (IM) in co-located primary health care practices and consider the influence that integrating mainstream medicine and CAM can have on the perceived quality of primary health care in Australia. My goal was to contribute the knowledge of the phenomenon of IM through a deeper understanding and interpretation of IM gained by investigating the perceptions of core stakeholders, in this case clients and practitioners of IM.
This research was situated in the interpretive paradigm and used two research methodologies: hermeneutics (to interpret the value of IM as reported in the literature) and hermeneutic phenomenology (to understand meanings and significance that clients and practitioners attach
to their experiences of IM). Data collection involved the collation of existing literature texts and by cumulative case studies (using semi-structured interviews and observation), focus groups, and key informant interviews. Using a blend of methodologies provided a rich and powerful means of understanding the processes and outcomes of IM through the
interpretations of its core stakeholders’ lived experiences. In particular I sought perceptions of clients and practitioners of IM about their health and health care including assessment and treatment options, health outcomes, congruence with beliefs and values, collaborative practices and power sharing. Data analysis was conducted concurrently with and subsequent to data collection so that questioning, observation and textual interpretation were
progressively guided by the data. A set of meta-themes emerged from the fusion of findings from all phases of the research. These meta-themes represented answers to key research
questions. They are:
• Mutual respect
• Ontological perspectives
• Duty of care.
This thesis identifies IM practice styles according to different levels of client agency and degrees of power sharing that exist among CAM and mainstream medical practitioners. A theorised model based on the research findings which depicts quality of health care as a variable consequence of diverse practice styles of IM is produced in two parts: Part 1 acknowledges that IM is a variable phenomenon in practice with different levels of collaboration, power-sharing and quality of health care; Part 2 presents an optimum mode of IM practice.
Authentically client-centred health care is at the core of all of these practice styles. This thesis has significant implications for the way IM is practised and for primary health care delivery
more broadly. IM that is mutually respectful and genuinely collaborative is flexible, inclusive, and socially relevant and has a substantial and far-reaching contribution to make to the quality
of primary health care.