Unpacking the Naturopathic Medicine Approach
The future for naturopathic medicine looks bright. While I don’t necessarily see anything dramatic happening, there are a number of factors that ensure a steady flow of patients for naturopathic doctors. In this post I’ll discuss why a patient would choose a naturopathic doctor, the difference of naturopathic medicine vs. the traditional medical system, common myths, and the overall approach taken with naturopathic medicine.
Who Chooses a Naturopathic Doctor?
Patients seek naturopathic medicine for a number of reasons and they come from different ethnic, racial, political, and socioeconomic backgrounds. One thing they all share in common is the desire to find the cause of their problem and fix it rather than taking a prescription that just addresses the symptoms. These patients also tend to be the type of people that like solving problems as well as preventing them. One issue with our medical system here in the United States is that health care workers are overworked and in many cases underpaid. I recently spoke with a primary care doctor here in Colorado who sees between 30 and 40 patients per day. I do not know how anyone could stay fresh and excited about patient care with that type of patient load. Also, there is no incentive, nor the time, for doctors to get to know these patients and discuss the root causes of their problems in addition to nutrition and lifestyle. A common complaint from patients is that they want to talk about nutrition with their medical doctor but are not able to because the doctor is not knowledgeable in that area. Only a couple of medical schools require nutrition courses. However, the problem is with the system, not the doctors.
We have patients who were not happy with the quick visit and prescription they were given elsewhere. They seek in-depth answers and this dissatisfaction seems to be increasing among patients. In some cases they want a more personal relationship and are put off by the impersonal, sterile, medical industrial complex mentality. Frankly, many patients are not a good fit for the system anyway. They want to ask a lot of questions, talk about supplements and alternatives, and the medical system is just not set up for that. One thing that made this worse is when big hospitals started buying up the doctor-owned small practices.
Another reason people are seeking a more detailed experience with their doctor is due to the deluge of information online. It is easier and easier to dig into topics and become well-informed, especially when patients can search medical databases and scientific literature.
Debunking Common Myths about Naturopathic Medicine
If one were to Google naturopathic medicine one would assuredly find naysayers and skeptics who mainly say that naturopathic medicine has no foundation in science. These individuals clearly do not know the curriculum. Naturopathic doctors learn the same basic sciences and Western diagnosis that regular doctors do. They take a year of anatomy including a year in anatomy lab dissecting the human body. They also take physiology, biochemistry, clinical diagnosis, laboratory science, pharmacology, physical medicine, neuroscience, and every other basic science such as chemistry and biology. A naturopathic diagnosis is the same as a conventional medical one it is just the approach that is different. In fact, the naturopathic medicine profession strives to be above the board and as evidence-based as possible. In some cases we wish there were more human clinical trials but because there is no profit in a lot of what we do there is no incentive to run multi-million dollar studies. Those who debunk naturopathic medicine often have no idea how much data exists to support treatments that we use. I like to say “you do not know what you do not know until you know it”. If one has not looked at the data how can they possibly have any idea that it exists. Also, just because clinical studies are missing on a topic does not mean something does not work or isn’t effective, it just means it has not been studied and published yet.
Additionally, there are some individuals who may tout themselves as naturopathic doctors but have not gone to a bona fide naturopathic medical school and do not take premedical courses. This sort of thing started a long time ago with diploma mills and online schools. These folks diverge very far from science and evidence-based medicine. Always make sure that your naturopathic doctor is licensed in your particular state.
What is a Naturopathic Doctor?
A naturopathic doctor is the perfect resource for looking at root causes, getting a proper diagnosis, and working towards fixing the problem without excessive or unneeded prescriptions and surgery. I cannot tell you how many times patients picked up prescriptions that have significant side effects and neither the physician or the pharmacist mentioned anything at all. In many cases, surgery might be the best approach in a critical situation and this is the type of discussion that sometimes takes up to 45 minutes and is important for the patient to fully understand. Naturopathic doctors are well-trained in clinical diagnosis and know when to refer to others. Naturopathic doctors are also deeply knowledgeable in reading blood work and often order more than a typical primary care physician would order. There is a reason for this. Much of the extensive blood work is not covered by insurance and some of it is not taught in medical school. A good naturopathic doctor is like an investigator and sometimes it takes a fair amount of testing to figure a case out. Naturopathic medicine is good for people who want to have a long, in-depth discussion about their concerns and develop a good relationship with their doctor. Many patients seeking naturopathic medicine are interested in frequent follow-up visits every 6 to 8 weeks, which is very hard to do in the conventional system because it so overburdened.
Naturopathic medicine is also different because in most states it is not covered by insurance. The patient is paying us as we are serving them and we do not become successful unless there are good patient outcomes. Naturopathic doctors are incentivized greatly to do the best job they can. Without doing this there are no patient referrals and the practice would collapse. Patients are also like clients. In the conventional system the insurance model constantly feeds large quantities of patients into practices. There is not much incentive to do an excellent job because the waiting room will always be full. It’s sad but true, is systemic, and not anyone’s fault. Naturopathic doctors are paid only through success, not by the hour. You, as the patient should expect excellent service not only from the doctor but the administrative staff as well.
COVID-19 and Naturopathic Medicine
A naturopathic approach to COIVD-19 is not different from any other approach to other conditions or diseases. A healthy immune system is the most important factor in avoiding COVID-19. A number of diseases contribute to susceptibility. One reason for this is that unhealthy people do not have good immune systems. A standard American diet high in calories and low in nutrients coupled with insufficient exercise and a high stress lifestyle is not the foundation for a robust immune system. Eating processed food and low-grade commercial animal products is also a strain on the immune system. Pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, plastic residues and synthetic growth factors get into these cheap foods and wreak havoc on the system. So, the approach in preventing COVID-19 would be to get the patient as healthy as possible first. This would come much in advance of giving supplements. It is much better to do it naturally with food, exercise, weight loss, and stress management. There are some nutrients that are helpful in bolstering healthy immune response to pulmonary viruses such as vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin C, Elderberry and N-acetylcysteine.
Treating the Whole Person through Naturopathic Healing
The approach then, in summary, is indeed different than conventional medicine. The root cause of the problem is always of primary concern. A proper diagnosis is important and patient education and rapport is critical. A holistic view of the patient is taken into account and includes psychosocial, socioeconomic, ethnic, cultural, and any other factor that affects their health. Typical factors include marital stress, family life, career satisfaction and overall world view. Each patient is different: some will do everything you tell them to do, while others take a lot of coaxing. Some jump on a healthy diet right away while others struggle. A big difference to the patient’s experience is that we often have as much time needed to get everything covered even if it takes 60 minutes for a return visit. Another example of a personalized naturopathic approach is regarding finances. If treatments and tests are too expensive not only do we lose the patient but they will become stressed because the financial burden is too much. We aim to offer affordable treatments.
These are great examples of the individualized and personalize approach of naturopathic medicine. Treat the whole person and treatment is definitely not one size fits all! Overall, the best possible patient outcomes is always the goal.