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October 2021

A Case Study in Integrative Medicine: Alternative Theories and the Language of Biomedicine

Abstract: In this case study, a diverse panel of 6 practitioners of mainstream and/or alternative medicine plus a moderator convened as an experiment in practicing integrative medicine to examine, diagnose, and prescribe for a patient suffering from chronic, severe, treatment-resistant back pain. Although panel members represented a wide range of theories of health and healing, they were able to communicate easily with one another by limiting themselves to the scientific language of biomedicine. From the perspective of medical anthropology, this can be interpreted as an unplanned and unconscious process of cultural imitation in a medical marketplace in which cultural differentiation formerly prevailed. Although the shift from differentiation to imitation was limited in this experiment to the sharing of a single language of discourse and to recommendations of mutually compatible treatment options, it raises an important question. With the institutionalization of integrated medical practice, will alternative medical systems survive only if they are stripped down to being no more than alternative therapeutic modalities?

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