Last spring, the Hackensack University Medical Center Foundation opened the Debra Simon Center for Integrative Medicine at the hospital’s fitness and wellness center in Maywood, New Jersey, one of many patient-centered, healing-oriented facilities in the United States. Integrative medicine (IM) health care facilities are becoming increasingly popular among consumers who embrace an approach to therapy that uses both conventional and complementary medicine.

In general, integrative medicine approaches health from the viewpoint that care involves a broad array of therapeutic treatments based on the patient’s unique needs. The principles of this approach consider patients and doctors as partners in the healing process. In addition, in integrative medicine, doctors take into account the effect of nonphysical influences on health, such as emotions, the state of the spirit and social status.

At Shift Integrative Medicine, a treatment center in New York City that more resembles a spacious, airy loft than a medical care facility, patients can choose services that include acupuncture, massage, physical and hand therapy, chiropractic care and therapeutic yoga, among others. “Your health is also emotional, psychological, spiritual, energetic and more,” says the center’s owner and clinical director, Patrick Walsh. “Shift recognizes and values all of these elements of your health with a collaborative model where therapists work together to offer you layers of healing strategies and perspectives.”

But integrative medicine doesn’t close the door on conventional medicine therapies. Its approach, which strives to support the body’s built-in healing response, integrates conventional and alternative therapies to meet each patient’s needs. In integrative medicine, the prime directive reflects the physician’s credo to “first do no harm” that many believe is found in Hippocratic Oath.

Interestingly, this saying doesn’t appear in the Hippocratic Oath. It’s found in the Hippocratic corpus, a body of about 70 medical texts written between the 6th and 4th centuries B.C. that’s popularly associated with the Greek physician Hippocrates and his teachings.

In integrative medicine, the goal to do no harm is reflected in practitioners’ use of less invasive treatments whenever possible. “Integrative medicine is a shift from conventional medicine because it is patient-centered and holistic and it views health as more than just physical,” Walsh explains.

Another belief of IM practitioners is that health should be viewed on a spectrum. At one end of the spectrum, health is reflected in the individual’s total well-being. On the other end is chronic disease, such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease, to name a few. But the middle—the “gray zone,” according to IM practitioners—is where we fall when our organs are weakened, stressed, rundown or nearing a state of disease.

At this point, people may not have yet developed a disease, but they may have a whole slew of symptoms, such as digestive issues, headaches, backaches, and other issues, that show their organs aren’t properly functioning. This is where conventional medicine usually steps in to treat these symptoms instead of addressing their root causes. In integrative medicine, practitioners address a patient’s mind, body and spirit to return balance and health to the individual.

Shift’s mission statement says the facility’s goal is to “treat the whole of you.”

But there are those who view IM as propaganda. Some doctors say the talking points supporting integrative medicine aren’t unique to this approach to health. In a paper published in the British Medical Journal, John C. McLachlan, a professor of medical education and an associate dean of medicine at the University of Durham in the United Kingdom, states, “it is something of an insult to medical practitioners to suggest that they do not take into account their patients’ individuality, autonomy, and views as part of their daily practice.”

Another criticism of integrative medicine is that the term is interchangeable for “complementary and alternative medicine,” another controversial approach to treatment that preceded IM. Indeed, there is a real divide between conventional medicine and any of the holistic approaches to health.

According to McLachlan, there’s been a move to disguise the nature of complementary and alternative medicine by calling it integrative medicine. But “alternative medicine is not noted for rigorous inquiry,” he says, “but rather accepts notions on face value.”

Academics in many countries have lobbied for and against courses in alternative medicine treatments to be included in their universities’ curriculum. But IM advocates, such as noted holistic health practitioner Andrew Weil, MD, believe that this approach reflects the future of U.S. health care.

Nearly 40 percent of Americans use health care approaches developed outside of conventional medicine for specific conditions or overall well-being, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). Statistics show that by 2016, revenue for the alternative medicine industry is projected to grow to almost $14.3 billion in the United States, according to Statista, an online resource for current statistical data on a broad range of topics.

NCCIH is the federal government’s lead agency for scientific research on health interventions, practices, products and disciplines that originate outside mainstream medicine. The agency believes in rigorous scientific investigation of the effectiveness and safety of alternative medicines and treatments that are used in conjunction with conventional therapies and how these approaches can better health care.

Many doctors avoid supporting one approach over the other. These experts feel that both alternative and conventional approaches to health care have their place in helping patients becoming well and staying healthy. Some simply wish to explore which treatments work and which don’t.

After all, they say, the idea is to make people who are sick well and make sure those who are well stay healthy.