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A federal survey of over 31,000 Americans found that 36% use some form of alternative or natural medicine. Many workers and business owners don’t know where to turn for good advice on natural medicine and finding a good practitioner can betricky.
Naturopathic doctors, acupuncturists and massage therapistsare required to complete formal training and are subject to stateoversight. Many other specialties such as herbal medicine, and aromatherapy have few and in some cases no training requirements. So how do you find reliable information and a qualified practitioner?
Search out evidence. A lack of scientific studies does not necessarily mean that a particular therapy doesn’t work, but an alternative practitioner should be able to defend his specialty. Research is enormously expensive and the cost of developing a new drug for example can easily exceed $1 billion. Only large organizations can afford the investment and alternative practitioners often cannot. A practitioner should however be able to recommend a place where you can look for more information. Other questions to ask a prospective practitioner might include: “Does the specialty have peer-reviewed journals?” and “Has the technique been tested in placebo-controlled, double-blind experimental trials?”
Start with an ND. Naturopathic doctors (NDs) are licensed physicians. In most cases including Washington State, you can use an ND as your primary care physician. S/he can order blood tests, diagnostic imaging, perform clinical exams and take a medical history. NDs prescribe drugs and perform minor surgery. Many insurance plans cover a naturopathic doctor’s services.
Naturopathy however is not just conventional primary care medicine. It is a medical system that uses herbs, nutrition, physical manipulation, homeopathy, and many other modalities. Naturopathic doctors emphasize prevention as a primary goal, and believe in supporting the body’s innate ability to heal.
Naturopathic physicians attend a four-year nationally accredited doctoral level program including the same courses taught at conventional medical schools. The personal approach to the patient is what differentiates NDs from mostconventional MDs. An average office visit with an ND, for example lasts a full hour. This means that you have direct access to a doctor for enough time that you don’t have to feel rushed. Much of this visit is spent focusing on prevention and educating patients about the nature of their disease. NDs believe that informed patients make the best decisions about their health. Likewise, an uninformed patient canoften get lost between the cracks of the increasingly complex US medicalculture. Patients are encouraged to ask the doctor questions regarding their condition(s). Laboratory results are gone over in great detail with patients as part of this education process. Conventional MDs are quick to reach for their prescription pads. Naturopaths have this same ability, and yet take the time to place added emphasis on education, nutrition, preventative care, and natural treatments before relying on solely on drugs.
Important: A naturopath is not the sameas a naturopathic doctor. In many states such as Washington, NDs complete rigorous standardize board exams toearn their license to practice. Naturopaths (often called “traditional naturopaths”) aren’t licensed. Their education may consist of correspondence courses or an apprenticeship—they may even be self-taught.
Stick with older approaches. Therapies that have been around for a long time are more likely to be effective than newer, trendy therapies. Traditional Chinese Medicine, for example has been around for thousands of years while massage therapy dates back as far as ancient Egypt.
Ask about training. Ask practitioners where (and for how long) they trained and how many years they have been in practice. Try to find a practitioner who specializes in your health issue(s). For example, a naturopathic physician might specialize in endocrinology or gastrointestinal disorders, or women’s health issues.
Look for a practitioner that gives referrals. A competent practitioner refers patients to other practitioners, including mainstream MD’s, and specialists. I routinely refer patients to chiropractors, neurologists, gastroenterologists, massage practitioners and acupuncturists. Avoid any holistic/alternative practitioner who refuses to communicate with – or refer patients to—conventional physicians.
Also, look for a practitioner who recognizes the value of laboratory and imaging tests. Every practitioner should know when to refer patients for testing and understand how to interpret and use the information from these tests.