Whole Systems Research

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Latest Edit: Iva 2012-08-04 (EDT)

Whole systems research, also called a pragmatic study, investigates the effectiveness of a treatment in a real life situation and determines whether an intervention works in terms that matter to a specific patient. A strength of this type of study is that it investigates real life applications, hence it is often more applicable to a larger population. In contrast to randomized controlled trials that explore effects within tightly defined populations, pragmatic studies have a broader focus and include the analysis of multiple treatment interventions, as well as lifestyle, psychological, social, external and environmental factors. The placebo effect and the patient-practitioner relationship are not controlled within pragmatic studies, in fact, play a large role in the findings. This type of study is generally more complex than the typical RCTs and more indicative of real life. Consequently it is somewhat more complex to interpret.[1]

Whole systems research is more in line with the holistic principles and practice approach of naturopathic medicine. This form of study does not replace randomized controlled studies, but provides another depth of resarch that promises to enhance the understanding of health and to improve disease management and population health management.


  1. Lloyd Iva (2009) The History of Naturopathic Medicine, a Canadian perspective McArthur & Company, Toronto.