The National Institutes of Health agency with primary responsibility for research on promising health approaches that already are in use by the American public has a new name: the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH).
The revision from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) was mandated as part of the omnibus budget measure signed by President Obama.
Large population-based surveys have found that the use of alternative medicine—unproven practices used in place of conventional medicine—is rare. Integrative health care, defined as a comprehensive, often interdisciplinary approach to treatment, prevention and health promotion that brings together complementary and conventional therapies, is more common. The use of an integrative approach to health and wellness has grown within care settings across the United States, including hospitals, hospices, and military health facilities.
“Since its establishment 16 years ago, the center has funded thousands of important research projects. Without this work, the American public would lack vital information on the safety and effectiveness of many practices and products that are widely used and readily available,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “This change by Congress reflects the importance of studying the approaches to health and wellness that the public is using, often without the benefit of rigorous scientific study.”
“The intent of an integrative approach is to enhance overall health status, prevent disease, and alleviate debilitating symptoms such as pain and chemotherapy-induced nausea, among others. However, the scientific foundation for many complementary approaches is still being built,” said Josephine P. Briggs, M.D., Director of NCCIH. “The mission of NCCIH will remain unchanged. We will continue to focus on the study of the usefulness and safety of complementary and integrative interventions, and provide the public with research-based information to guide health care decision making.”
The name change is in keeping with the center’s pre-existing congressional mandate and is aligned with the strategic plan guiding the center’s research priorities and public education activities. Public comments on a revised name were invited in May and June 2014 and indicated overall support for the change.
The center’s research priorities include the study of complementary approaches—such as spinal manipulation, meditation, and massage—to manage pain and other symptoms that are not always well-addressed by conventional treatments. The center’s research also encourages self-care methods that support healthier lifestyles and uncovers potential usefulness and safety issues of natural products. The practices and products studied by the center are prioritized by four guiding principles: scientific promise, amenability to be studied using the highest quality research methods, use by the American public, and the potential impact on public health.
In 1992, the Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM) was established within the Office of the Director, NIH, to facilitate study and evaluation of complementary and alternative medical practices and to disseminate the resulting information to the public. In 1998, NCCAM was established by Congress, elevating OAM to the status of an NIH center. In February 2011, NCCAM released Exploring the Science of Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Third Strategic Plan 2011–2015, which continues to guide NCCIH’s work.