Naturopathic Medicine: Q&A

What is naturopathic medicine?

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What kind of conditions does naturopathic medicine treat?

Naturopathic medicine is a primary care medical system that can treat most conditions primarily, and many other conditions supportively. The most common reasons patients visit a naturopathic doctor is to approach medical care from a natural perspective that addresses the whole body in a holistic manner. Naturopathic medicine can treat acute conditions such as colds, ear infections, allergies, as well as chronic conditions like eczema, asthma, digestive disturbances, etc. Naturopathic medicine is often used adjunctively to conventional medical care in cancer care or in treating chronic progressive disease such as multiple sclerosis, parkinson’s disease, etc. Following strong pharmaceutical treatment or invasive surgeries, naturopathic medicine can be a very useful tool in helping the body return to health and balance.

Preventative medicine is another big focus of naturopathic medicine; many chronic conditions these days are largely preventable through dietary and lifestyle changes – prevention is the best cure in many cases. With advancements in genetic medicine, some individuals are also looking for specific ways to reduce risk factors for heritable diseases.

The most common conditions that are treated by naturopathic medicine are those for which conventional medicine has few to no long term answers or cures, including, but not limited to, chronic pain and musculoskeletal issues, autoimmune conditions,  digestive complaints or disease, mental health, infertility, weight management and reducing cardiovascular & diabetic risk factors.

Bottom line, if you struggle with the following, consider adding naturopathic treatment to your life:

  • Chronic conditions that you feel you need more support for
  • Lifestyle changes and preventing chronic disease in the future
  • Annoying health “bothers”; chronic runny nose, patchy rashes, fatigue that won’t budge, recurrent infections, etc
  • “Not feeling like yourself”
  • Wanting to take control of your health, ask questions, gain knowledge and be empowered in your own journey

Where does naturopathic medicine fit into the health care system?

Naturopathic doctors (NDs) are trained as primary care health care providers and may act as your family physician. The scope of the naturopathic practice varies slightly depending on the state or province in which they practice, but for the most part NDs work as a part of the medical system with medical doctors (MDs), chiropractors, psychologists, registered dieticians, midwives and other health care providers. Many naturopathic doctors work in integrative clinics collaboratively with other NDs or MDs on site.

The role a naturopathic doctor plays in a patient’s health care depends largely on the patient’s preference. For example, some one may obtain a yearly physical, blood work or pap smear through their ND or MD. A key difference to note is that NDs have very limited access to drug prescriptions compared to MDs. Naturopathic doctors must also respect their jurisdiction’s scope of practice and only do the lab tests, physical exams and treatments they are permitted to do. Since patients pay out of pocket for tests done through naturopathic services, many NDs and MDs work collaboratively to give patients the best quality of care, combining strengths of each practice to best benefit the patient. This may include correspondence to coordinate care, working together to take patients off medications or refer for imaging/lab testing, sharing patient medical records (as requested by the patient), and much more.

If a condition, treatment or test is out of a naturopathic doctor’s scope of practice, they will refer their patient to the appropriate health care provider.

How are naturopathic doctors trained?

There are 7 accredited naturopathic colleges in North America, 2 of which are in Canada and the remaining 5 in the United States. Colleges are accredited by the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME).

Education typically requires a 3 or 4 year university degree with a background in biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, psychology, math and physics before one can be considered for naturopathic college. Naturopathic education itself is a 4 year program that teaches the fundamentals of anatomy, physiology, embryology, pathology, immunology, biochemistry, microbiology, pharmacology, diagnostics, clinical rationale and radiology, as well as the treatment principles of the naturopathic modalities; physical medicine, asian medicine (acupuncture, herbal and dietary), botanical medicine, nutrition, homeopathy, hydrotherapy, and lifestyle changes.

For more information on the education of naturopathic doctors in North America, please take a look at The Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges.

What are naturopathic doctors allowed to do (scope of practice)?

Every regulated jurisdiction has a slightly different scope of practice. In Canada for example, British Columbia is well known for having a larger naturopathic scope of practice along with being the first province to grant prescribing authority to NDs.

Generally speaking, naturopathic doctors perform routine physical exams including female pelvic exams and pap smears, male genital exams and digital rectal exams. They take full medical histories and communicate diagnoses to the patient as laid out by the regulations of their jurisdiction.

NDs may administer injections such as Intravenous vitamin therapy, Vitamin B12 injections and prolotherapy if that act is allowed in their jurisdiction and they have written the appropriate pharmacology exams and done the required training (i.e. a certified IV course) in addition to obtaining their naturopathic license.

Many naturopathic doctors rely on laboratory testing to create specialized treatment plans for their patients and track progress. NDs may draw blood samples, collect urine/feces/saliva or hair for testing, or do swabs such as throat cultures, vaginal/penile swabs, or skin scrapings. Every jurisdiction has its own laws on what lab test NDs may order and for the most part, an ND will refer a patient to their medical doctor if ordering imaging (X-ray, CT scan, etc) is required.

While naturopathic doctors are not permitted to hold a specialty in any field of medicine, such as oncology, they may take a specific interest in a field and gear their practice towards it. NDs may not market themselves as a field specialist, but may indicate the focus of their practices.

When it comes to prescribing, the regulations of each jurisdiction determine what an ND can and cannot write a prescription for. Generally, NDs may prescribe natural health products in concentrations, combinations and doses that are not available to the public through health food stores. Sometimes additional training or licensing is required to prescribe high dose vitamins, such as vitamin D, intravenous vitamin C or treatments like inhaled glutathione for COPD patients. British Columbia and some states in the U.S. have prescribing authority and NDs may write some drug prescriptions for patients.

Aside from the core modalities taught in the naturopathic curricula (homeopathy, botanical medicine, asian medicine, nutrition, hydrotherapy and physical medicine), some naturopathic doctors obtain further training in specific areas and offer those services to patients, assuming such treatments are sanctioned under current regulations. These services may range from specialized injection therapies (prolotherapy, platelet rich injection therapy) to treatments such as ozone therapy or hyperthermia therapy.

How is naturopathic medicine regulated?

Please see this link to the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors for the regulation status of Canadian provinces.

Please see this link to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians for the regulation status of American states.

How do I find a licensed naturopathic doctor?

If in Canada, please click HERE for a searchable database of licensed naturopathic doctors.

If in the U.S. please click HERE for a searchable database of licensed naturopathic doctors.

Does insurance cover naturopathic medicine and do naturopathic doctor bill insurance directly?

Naturopathic medicine in not covered by provincial health care at this point in time. Whether this will change in the future remains to be seen. NDs spend anywhere from 15 to 90 minutes with their patients, sometimes only seeing 4 to 8 patients in a full working day, so provincial coverage as given to MDs may not be a sustainable vision.

At this time, many insurance plans will offer coverage of naturopathic medicine each year, but the plan you or your workplace has purchased can vary. To know if you personally have coverage, you must call your insurance company, give them your plan number, and they will let you know if you do, and in what amount.

Canadian naturopathic doctors do not typically bill insurance directly.

What is the cost for naturopathic medicine?

The cost of naturopathic services ranges, so the best way to be sure is to visit a clinic’s website or call directly. An hour long visit can range from $150 upwards depending on the services offered and the location (the cost in major cities is often higher).  Many clinics offer lower prices, have discounts, or treat at very economical prices.

For example, The Community Clinic in Toronto operates on a pay-what-you-can basis.

The fee at the Robert Schad Naturopathic Clinic in North York, Toronto is $45.00 for an hour. Interns from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine also work at free clinics around the city and in Brampton.

Why should I pay for my healthcare?

In the end, this is your choice. Health is something you can invest just as you do anything else, and the pay off will serve a happy, healthy lifetime to come. See the above question for discussion around affordable and free naturopathic care.

Historically doctors in China were paid to keep their patients healthy, and as soon as one became sick, the doctor was no long paid because they weren’t doing their job effectively. We now live in society where preventative medicine and living well & healthy takes a back seat to hectic schedules and “getting things done”.  It can be hard to readjust the perspective that health is worthy of investment, but it pays dividends.

Some smart tips for making a happy investment:

  • Meet or communicate with the ND beforehand (some offer a free meet and greet) to see if their style and personality is one you want to work with.
  • If your ND does not ask, tell them about your budget and indicate that this includes supplements, any lab testing and follow up visits. Your ND should be able to adjust treatment plans, keeping them efficacious, but lower in cost.
  • Ask around about the comparative cost of supplements. If a natural pharmacy carries the same brand for less down the road, consider whether it is less or more costly than getting the supplement at your ND’s office.
  • Stand up for yourself and your ideas about your treatment plan. While the doctor has the medical training, you know your body, your budget and your abilities so your voice should be heard.

What are some good resources to learn more about naturopathic medicine?

The Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges

  • For more information about what naturopathic medicine is, how naturopathic doctors are trained, how naturopathic colleges are accredited and how to begin your educational journey in naturopathic medicine.

The Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors

  • For more information on how to find a licensed naturopathic doctor in Canada, details on the regulation of naturopathic medicine across Canadian provinces, Naturopathic Medicine Week and events across Canada, resources for Canadian NDs.

 

If you have another question not answered here, or would like more information, please send a message below. Thank you.