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From the Townsend Letter
May 2016

Pathways to Healing
AIHM Spearheads Efforts Toward Sustainable Health Care
by Elaine Zablocki
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The Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine (AIHM) emerged in 2014 when two well-established organizations united to better serve and magnify broad efforts to transform the way that we think about health and health care. AIHM is a unique interprofessional entity, supporting team-based approaches to care.
One of AIHM's central goals is to move toward a more sustainable health system through education, community, and training. The organization displays a chart, called the Wellness Route Map, which encapsulates its vision for our potential future:


  • from sickness to health and well-being
  • from institution-led service to health and social care as part of a community
  • from procedure-focused treatment to chronic illness management focused on a return to health
  • from waste and overuse of resources to a balanced use of resources

(Higher resolution version opens in another window)

Tieraona Low Dog, MDThe organization is multifaceted, with focus areas that include education, membership support, an interprofessional fellowship, and advocacy. The academy educates and trains clinicians in integrative health and medicine to assure exemplary health care. The annual conference has emerged as a central event, while the interprofessional fellowship, under the direction of Tieraona Low Dog, MD, launched this February with a full class.
"The people who are most excited about this organization are often those who come to a conference and say 'I've been looking for this group my whole life,'" said AIHM chair Daniel Friedland, MD. "We're becoming the virtual home for integrative health practitioners."
Daniel Friedland, MDEstablished by health-care practitioners and health seekers connected by a shared holistic philosophy, AIHM could prove to be a "communication channel" to propel integrative medicine forward. It is working toward meaningful policy changes through a partnership with the Integrative Health Policy Consortium (IHPC). "The advocacy work will change the landscape so that integrative clinicians can better serve the patient," Friedland said. "While education is key to advancing the skills and practices of integrative health practitioners, it's through advocacy, policy, and legislation that qualified integrative health-care practitioners will be fully empowered to work together transforming the delivery of health care."

Historic Collaboration, Shared Vision for the Future
In 2014, two respected integrative medicine organizations merged to form AIHM. One was the American Holistic Medical Association (AHMA), founded in 1978 as a professional membership organization for MDs and DOs. The second was the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine (ABHM), created by a group of AHMA members in 1996 to certify physicians in integrative holistic medicine.
Mimi Guarneri, MD, FACC, AIHM president, was an active participant in the transition towards the new academy. "The only way we will transform the health-care system is through community, new ways of thinking and working collaboratively," she said.
In 2013 both organizations began preparing their members for the planned merger. Up to that point, about 3000 MDs and DOs had passed the ABIHM exam and were ABIHM diplomates. Going forward, Diplomates will maintain their certification through AIHM. Meanwhile, a new board called the American Board of Integrative Medicine (ABOIM) began offering certification exams in comprehensive integrative medicine for MD and DO physicians. ABOIM, overseen by the American Board of Physician Specialties (ABPS), sets a new standard by requiring a 1000-hour fellowship in integrative medicine for MD and DO physicians.
The final ABIHM exam was offered in 2014. The next year, the organization transformed its premier education event, the "People, Planet, Purpose" conference, to serve the interprofessional AIHM vision. Tabatha Parker, ND, AIHM director of education, expanded the faculty to 76 experts and invited luminaries such as Dean Ornish, MD; Jean Watson, RN, PhD; and Deepak Chopra, MD, as speakers. "The vision of the AIHM Conference was to transcend our silos and come together in collective purpose toward a new model of health care, with collaboration at the center," she said.

First-Ever Interprofessional Fellowship Program
Last year, the AIHM also launched the first truly Interprofessional Fellowship program under the direction of Low Dog. In this program, medical and osteopathic physicians, pharmacists, licensed acupuncturists, masters-prepared nurses, psychologists, and many other professionals train side by side academically and in clinical settings. "The AIHM Interprofessional Fellowship Program will provide a much-needed framework for a bold, paradigm-shifting approach to clinical practice and outcomes research," said Guarneri. "It will give rise to next-generation, interprofessional collaborations, and activate fundamental, systemic change. Note that the fellowship qualifies MDs and DOs for the ABOIM exam."
The Interprofessional Fellowship is a two-year, graduate-level training program for integrative clinicians. It combines a virtual classroom of media-rich training, discussion groups, and an interactive Web-based curriculum with in-person residential retreats and clinical immersion experiences. The executive-delivery model allows clinicians to live and work in their current location.
"We must consider the social conditions that perpetuate disease, and the undeniable connection between the health of our planet and ourselves," Low Dog said. "Through the fellowship program we will nurture clinicians who are trained to work together in order to use safe, lower-cost interventions for prevention and, when appropriate, treatment of disease."
To support the fellowship program, AIHM has partnered with the Oregon Collaborative for Integrative Medicine (OCIM), a nonprofit organization that includes the National College of Natural Medicine, Oregon College of Oriental Medicine, Oregon Health & Science University, Pacific University, and the University of Western States. OCIM has been committed to inte-grative edu-ca-tion, research, and patient care for more than 25 years. "Our first class began early in February, and we're already accepting applications for the next class, which will start in August, 2016." Guarneri said.

A New, United Voice on the National Scene
Over the past decade, integrative medicine has expanded nationally and been recognized by prestigious medical centers. Leading academic hospitals including the Mayo Clinic, Yale, and Duke now boast top-notch integrative medicine centers, and many accredited MD programs incorporate integrative medicine into their course of study.
Section 2706 of the Affordable Care Act mandates "Non-Discrimination in Healthcare," saying that any health plan or health insurance issuer offering health insurance coverage "shall not discriminate with respect to participation under the plan or coverage against any health-care provider who is acting within the scope of that provider's license or certification under applicable state law." However, making that section of the law a reality requires constant public pressure on the state and local level.
In the past, while organizations representing specific providers have advocated for appropriate insurance coverage under the law, there hasn't been a strong unified public voice representing all of those who are committed to integrative medicine.
In 1983, I served on the administrative staff of the Oregon Senate Health and Human Services Committee. I recall that when a bill came up that affected several different health-care professions, and they all agreed on an appropriate action, legislators were eager to respond to their needs. On the other hand, when the professions did not agree, those bills were likely to languish in committee, and die at the end of the legislative session.
Now AIHM will be able to help unite those who support a transformed, patient-centered, wellness-focused health-care system. AIHM is a 501(c)3 organization, which means that it can carry out educational and lobbying activities within certain limits. It is working together with the Integrative Health Policy Consortium (IHPC), a 501(c)4 organization which will be able to take a broader political role.

"While non-discrimination is now the law, it is not widely enforced," Friedland said. "At our last AIHM conference we found many people attending had never heard of Section 2706, even though many of them would benefit from it. We need to educate our members and the general public about these issues. Section 2706 provides all with a choice in selecting qualified health practitioners and disciplines. Over time, IHPC is engaging in a strategy to reach decision makers who can make non-discrimination a reality."
In addition, AIHM encourages gatherings in local areas. "We've been working to form local chapters because so many things are best done at the local level," Friedland said. "In each town, practitioners will have the option to get together on a regular basis‚ to network with others as well as find opportunities to work together in common cause."
AIHM also partners with a wide variety of organizations through its Association Leadership Council, which offers a networking platform, shared communications, and many ways to participate in a robust dialogue on advocacy in health and medicine. Current members of the Council include academic institutions, professional associations, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, the Institute for a Sustainable Future, Integrative Medicine for the Underserved, the National Consortium for Credentialing Health & Wellness Coaches, and many more.
All these new forums for communication and partnership lead to a hopeful future for integrative medicine. "We now have an opportunity to work for a shared vision that will empower people to be involved in their own health-care decisions, that will promote and restore their health," Low Dog said. "We will recognize, respect and actively engage the wide range of health professions that can play a role in improving lives."
A basis of deep respect for the healing professions underlies the academy's fellowship program, which fosters collaborative training and a team-based approach to healing. "In this new era of interprofessional collaboration, the paradigm is shifting," Friedland said. "Our focus will be on health creation to promote optimal wellness and well-being, in both the presence and absence of disease."

AIHM Annual Conference: People, Planet, Purpose
The next AIHM annual conference, "People, Planet, Purpose" will be held at the Paradise Point Resort and Spa in San Diego. It runs from October 30 to November 3, with preconference workshops scheduled on October 29. The event features many sessions on self-care for health-care practitioners, plus a luncheon focused on the Fellowship program. AIHM is partnering with the University of California, San Diego, for the conference, and registration opened in April. In addition, there will be a postconference workshop on consciousness, featuring Deepak Chopra, MD, as keynoter. The postconference workshop is a collaborative effort with Shamini Jain, PhD, and the Consciousness and Healing Initiative (CHI).

AIHM Interprofessional Fellowship

AIHM Membership – Join your Community

Integrative Health Policy Consortium
Get involved in the policy work of integrative medicine.

Riley DS et al. The Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine and the evolution of integrative medicine practice, education, and fellowships. Integr Med. February 2016:38–40.

Elaine Zablocki has been a freelance health-care journalist for more than 20 years. She was the editor of Alternative Medicine Business News and CHRF News Files. She writes regularly for many health-care publications.

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