One of the Centers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) changed its name. The newly christened National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health was formerly known as the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The change was implemented as part of the massive budget bill just signed by President Obama.
The ‘alternative medicine’ in the Center’s (now) former name has raised my eyebrow on occasion. Certainly the U.S. government doesn’t approach alternative therapies the same way as in the U.K. (where homeopathy can be espoused by Members of Parliament). Here’s the official explanation for its absence:
Why does the new name include “Integrative Health” instead of “Alternative Medicine”?
Large population-based surveys have found that the use of “alternative medicine”—unproven practices used in place of conventional medicine—is actually rare. By contrast, integrative health care, which can be defined as combining complementary approaches into conventional treatment plans, has grown within care settings across the nation, including hospitals, hospices, and military health facilities. The goal of an integrative approach is to enhance overall health, prevent disease, and to alleviate debilitating symptoms such as pain and stress and anxiety management that often affects patients coping with complex and chronic disease, among others. However, the scientific foundation for many complementary approaches is still being built.
As the research mission of the center will not change, the name change may be strictly cosmetic. But if my eyebrow-raising at the mention of ‘alternative medicine’ in the context of a federal research institute is common, a name change may make a lot of public relations sense.