Wednesday, June 9, 2010

"Are naturopathic doctors worth it?"

Here was an excellent question recently posed by someone from around Detroit, Michigan, and who stumbled onto my blog as a result. So...are naturopathic doctors worth it? Absolutely.

A popular view of naturopathic doctors is that the cost of seeing us is very high. Indeed, I have had a number of people call, ask me about what I do, then get excited about how I might be able to help them. Then they ask about my rates, and their enthusiasm often wanes. Then they say they're gonna shop around, and I usually don't hear from them again.

Let's look at what allopathic (or conventional) medical doctors charge, in comparison. A few years ago, I went to see my primary care physician (an MD) to get a prescription refill. I forgot my insurance card, so I was billed for my quick, 5 minute visit. How much? A whopping $89! Compare this with an initial visit with a naturopathic doctor, where the cost may be anywhere from $120-$250 for an initial visit, but you see the doctor for up to two hours. You may also be paying for research done outside the visit, so that you can get a thorough treatment plan. Taken in this perspective, naturopathic care is an excellent deal. (If we go by the scale of $89 for a 5-minute visit, a 2-hour visit would cost over $2000!)

Many people ask whether I take insurance. This is a legitimate question. But in a state like Colorado, where naturopathic doctors are not regulated, the question really should be "does insurance take you?" At this time, unfortunately, the answer is almost exclusively "no." Insurance offers reimbursement for services provided by a licensed practitioner, and as long as the practice of naturopathic medicine is not regulated in Colorado, insurance will not cover services provided by a naturopathic doctor. (Incidentally, I often tell patients that I do take insurance, but strictly for chiropractic services only.)

Here are some reasons why seeing a naturopathic doctor really is worth it.

First, naturopathic doctors aim to address the fundamental causes of disease. When you see a naturopathic doctor, most likely, you will not just be given a supplement or a drug that simply acts as a band-aid, covering up symptoms that warn us of potential major health issues. Rather, you will see a doctor who actively probes, researches, and questions exactly why you ended up with the health condition or malaise that you currently have - often outside of your visit as well as during your visit. Let's say you have insomnia. It could be caused by any number of things - a neurotransmitter imbalance, too much light in the room at night, drinking too much caffeine late in the day, or even an emotional trauma. Simply giving sleeping pills does not address the cause of your disease.

Second, naturopathic doctors often offer a wealth of information on preventive care. Notice that I did not say "a wealth of supplements for preventive care." There are some naturopathic doctors that do use a lot of supplements, and some get great results. And often, if you are dealing with a severe health condition, you may expect a fair number of supplements to jump-start you on the road to health again. But the best naturopathic doctors will also provide information for patients that will empower them to take charge of their own health. For example, I often provide handouts on simple hydrotherapy treatments that patients can do at home to help boost the immune system. I also provide information on ways to make eating organic food easier; this might include pamphlets on local farms that provide an abundance of organic produce in exchange for a relatively inexpensive share on the farm.

Third, naturopathic doctors take the edict to "first do no harm" very seriously. This entails two things. First, the best naturopathic doctors support the body's health and its innate tendency to heal itself when given the right conditions. With this strategy, it is difficult to do much harm; frequently, this results in no harm done at all. Second, naturopathic doctors will use the least invasive therapies first. Eliminating obstacles to cure, establishing a healthy daily regimen, and providing gentle treatments like homeopathy, hydrotherapy, and simple botanical medicines to support health can and regularly do work wonders. Often, this is all that needs to be done to help a person heal.

Fourth, visits with naturopathic doctors tend to be longer than with conventional physicians. You get more individualized care, with all attention devoted to you for the entire visit. Naturopathic doctors are interested not just in your disease. They want to get to know you as a person, how you got to the state of health you are at during your visit, and what makes you tick. What excites you? What irks you? What foods do you like? How's your sleep? You get the idea.

If this all sounds enticing, then by all means, naturopathic doctors are worth it.

However, you may not be a good candidate for naturopathic care. Here's some possible reasons:
  • If you are looking only for quick fixes that provide symptomatic relief, naturopathic care might not be what you should look for. (Keep in mind that naturopathic doctors often do provide symptomatic relief, but that's not where they stop.)
  • If you are only looking for a source for supplements without consulting a health care professional, naturopathic care may not be for you. (I once had a woman call me just to ask if I carried strontium to address her osteoporosis; she did not want to come in for a consult. To be blunt, this is what health food stores are for.)
  • If you only want your disease treated, you may be better off seeing a disease specialist. Naturopathic doctors usually specialize in health, not disease. (There is a big difference between just getting your disease treated and actively becoming healthier.)
  • If you are simply looking for an herbal or nutritional supplement that takes the place of a drug, you may want to reconsider your options. For example, naturopathic doctors may give St. John's wort or 5-HTP to address depression, but this is not merely to replace Prozac or Paxil. You can expect more out of naturopathic doctors.
To the reader in Detroit who originally posed this question...I hope you came back, and I hope you found this enlightening! To everyone reading this: best wishes for health and happiness!

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Do you have health issues that aren't being adequately addressed by conventional medicine? Naturopathic care may be the answer you're looking for. Visit my website for more information about naturopathic medicine, and begin your journey toward optimal health!

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