Public Health Traditional, Complementary, Alternative, and Integrative Medicine (TCAIM)
Jon Adams, Jane Frawley
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756797-0164


Historically, public health has paid little systematic or coordinated attention to the separate but highly related fields of traditional, complementary, alternative, and integrative medicine (TCAIM). Yet no single approach to healing or single system of medicine has a monopoly over health and health-care seeking in any culture. Traditional medicine (TM), health practices and beliefs indigenous to a specific locale, population, or culture; complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), health practices and beliefs often with exotic or nonindigenous roots outside the culture or locale of use; and integrative medicine (IM), practices and beliefs harnessed within various approaches to the combination or integration of elements or systems of TM and/or CAM with or within conventional care and practices are all separate yet in many ways overlapping areas of health care practice, health-care systems, technology, and behaviors. While there is some inconsistency and contention around the specific nomenclature to be adopted and utilized on this broad topic of study, these three titles—TM, CAM, and IM—remain the most popular in the international peer-reviewed literature. One working definition for all three fields is based upon the historical “outsider” location and status of all of these medicines with regard to the core practices of the dominant medical profession and their medical curriculum. This somewhat negative definition does accommodate the political and cultural fluidity of boundaries between different systems of medicine and approaches to health and healing over time.

General Overviews

Alongside the increasing popularity of this vast range of practices, products, and health systems not traditionally associated with the medical profession or curriculum has emerged a critical scientific perspective and empirical body of work. While not detracting from the importance of evaluating the efficacy of different TCAIM, a growing number of scholars have focused their gaze upon other supplementary but equally urgent questions around TCAIM policy and service delivery, decision-making, information-seeking, and behavior, requiring expertise from health economics, health social science, epidemiology, and qualitative methods, among others. Much TCAIM provision exists beyond the formal and/or regulated health-care system, including in countries where various TCAIM are formally recognized as traditional systems of medicine, regulated and variously integrated with public health-care systems (particularly in Asian and Oriental regions). The community-based use and practice of TCAIM are increasingly identified as significant public health issues both in and of themselves and in relation to helping provide broader effective, safe, and coordinated care for patients and communities.

  • Adams, J., G. Andrews, J. Barnes, A. Broom, and P. Magin, eds. 2012. Traditional, Complementary and Integrative Medicine: An International Reader. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    This authoritative multidisciplinary collection houses work from academics drawn across a diverse range of disciplines, methodologies, and professions around the globe. This reader covers the consumption of TCAIM, considerations such as ethics, education and communication, and the role of scientific evidence, research, and knowledge production with regard to TCAIM.

  • Bodeker, G., and G. Burford, eds. 2006. Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Policy and Public Health Perspectives. London: World Scientific.

    This formative text was the first book to address public health issues in traditional, complementary, and alternative medicine. In addition to overviewing research in priority public health areas such as HIV and malaria, this collection outlines important considerations for education and training, ethical research, methodological design, and intellectual property rights in relation to indigenous medicine.

  • Micozzi, M. S. 2014. Fundamentals of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 5th ed. Amsterdam: Elsevier Health Sciences.

    This textbook details the history of individual complementary and alternative therapies from their beginnings to 21st-century practices. As well as common CAM practices such as massage, yoga, chiropractic, osteopathy, nutritional medicine, naturopathy, herbal medicine, and aromatherapy, this textbook also covers global, ethnomedical systems from Asia (including Chinese, Ayurvedic, Tibetan, and Unani traditional medical systems), the Pacific, Europe, Africa, and North, Central, and South America.

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