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September 2, 2009

Evolving From Reductionism to Holism: Is There a Future for Systems Medicine?

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington, DC (Dr Federoff); and O’Neill Institute for National and Global and Health Law, Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, DC (Mr Gostin).

JAMA. 2009;302(9):994-996. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.1264

Health reform discussions revolve around how best to achieve the goals of cost containment, increased access to care, and improved quality. However, in the current health reform debate, little attention is paid to how medicine is currently taught and practiced. It has long been understood that the fundamental tenets of health arise from understanding the interaction among genomics, the external environment, and behavior. Modern medicine often neglects this comprehensive model and treats disease in isolation, without taking into account the dynamic, integrative systems in the human body. Proponents of a new approach in medical education and practice look toward “systems medicine,” which incorporates the complex biochemical, physiological, and environmental interactions that sustain living organisms. Although a holistic approach to medicine should benefit patients and society, consideration of the sociolegal, ethical, and economic implications is essential.

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