Methods: We conducted an electronic literature search using PubMed, Allied and Complementary Medicine, BIOSIS Previews, EMBASE, the entire Cochrane Library, MANTIS, Social SciSearch, SciSearch Cited Ref Sci, PsychInfo, CINAHL, and NCCAM grantee publications listings from database inception to May 2009, as well as searches of the gray literature. Available studies published in English language were included. Three independent reviewers rated each article and assessed the methodological quality of studies using the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network.
Results: Our initial search yielded 11 591 citations. Of these, only 660 were judged to be relevant to the purpose of our search. Most articles deal with implementing and implemented programs. They focus on practice models, strategies for integrative health, the business case, and descriptive studies. This is followed in terms of numbers by conceptual/philosophical writings. These in turn are followed by research articles including randomized controlled trials, program evaluations, and cost-effectiveness studies. The literature reflects an emerging field in that it is focused more on how to create IM than on researching outcomes. However, the lack of definition and clarity about the term integrative medicine (also known as integrative health care) and the absence of taxonomy for models of IM make it very difficult to efficiently conduct systematic reviews of this field at the moment.
Conclusion: Our review revealed that most articles focused on describing practice models and conceptual/philosophical models, whereas there are fewer randomized controlled trials and observation studies. The lack of consensus on a clear definition and taxonomy for integrative health care represents a major methodological barrier on conducting systematic literature reviews and meta-analysis in this emerging field.
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