Naturopathic Medicine and Healthcare Reform
Written by Debra Kirchhof-Glazier
Member, Huntingdon Health and Wellness Association
Congress is struggling to overhaul our health care system, which most people would agree is broken. The reasons for this dilemma are multifaceted and complex. However, I believe that a large part of the problem stems from the fact that we have been focusing on “disease care” rather than “health care”.
Our health care system is primarily reactive rather than proactive with a focus on treating symptoms. Many patients experience adverse effects from medical treatments or side effects of drugs. There is very little emphasis on wellness and non-toxic management of chronic disease, which I feel, is the missing link that will enable us to have a true health care system and which is the forté of naturopathic medicine.
Most people are not aware that there are three types of physicians in this country, each of which is trained in an accredited medical school. Everyone is familiar with M.D.s (allopathic medicine), some are familiar with D.O.s (osteopathic medicine), and a few with N.D.s (naturopathic medicine). M.D.s are trained in drugs and surgery. D.O.s are trained in drugs, surgery, and osteopathic manipulation of the musculoskeletal system, and N.D.s are trained in complementary and alternative methods of healing that involve botanical and nutritional medicine, hydrotherapy, homeopathy, acupuncture, and physical medicine.
As an analogy, the three forms of medicine can be compared to three different tools, each of which has an important and specialized function. Allopathic medicine is like a sledgehammer, osteopathic medicine is like a hammer, and naturopathic medicine is like a thumb. Health problems run the gamut in severity and can be analogized to spikes, nails, and thumbtacks. If you get hit by a bus, you need emergency care that includes surgery and potent medications. However, surgery and medications are not the optimal solution for every health problem. Unfortunately, we often apply the sledgehammer to the thumbtacks, resulting in problems with troublesome or dangerous side effects for non-life-threatening conditions.
There are 6 fundamental principles in naturopathic medicine. The first is “the healing power of nature”. Naturopathic physicians are trained to help the body heal itself. The second principle is to “identify and treat the cause”. Naturopathic medicine looks beyond the symptoms and seeks to treat the cause of disease. The third principle is “first do no harm” by using the least invasive or toxic therapies. The fourth principle is “doctor as teacher”. Patients are educated about how to achieve and maintain their own health. Fifth is “treat the whole person”. Health and illness are understood in terms of an integrated whole with equal importance given to physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional dimensions. And the sixth principle is “prevention, with health and wellness as the goal.
The top three causes of death in the United States are heart disease, cancer, and stroke. Diabetes is close behind at #6. These diseases exact a horrendous personal and economic toll, and all of them have a strong connection to diet and nutrition. Naturopathic physicians are highly skilled in using food as medicine. They receive an average of 70 hours of general nutrition education in medical school and 130 hours of training in therapeutic diets, compared with an average of 20 hours of basic nutrition education and virtually no training in therapeutic diets in conventional medical schools.
There are currently five accredited naturopathic medical school in the U.S and two in Canada. The curriculum extends over four years, and students must pass national board exams, the same as for allopathic or osteopathic medical school. Naturopathic physicians practice on their own or with conventional practitioners.
An emerging form of health care that combines conventional with complementary and alternative medicine is known as integrative medicine, which targets appropriate treatments to the individual patient. The idea is catching on. For example, there is a non-profit network of integrative health care centers called the Planetree system, with the closest affiliate in Winder, Pennsylvania. There is also a Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine with 44 members, which includes Harvard, Duke, Columbia, the Mayo Clinic, and Penn.
Naturopathic medicine is currently licensed in 15 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.
Although naturopathic physicians practice in all 50 states, those in non-licensed states function under various restrictions. They are also indistinguishable from N.D. practitioners who earned their degrees through correspondence courses rather than rigorous medical school training. In addition, patients of naturopathic physicians in unlicensed states cannot claim expenses through their insurance. Naturopathic treatment is cost effective in the long run but is fairly expensive in the short term. Licensure helps alleviate the financial burden of patients accessing this kind of health care.
Currently there is a bill (HB 1784) in the Professional Licensure Committee in Harrisburg that would license naturopathic physicians in Pennsylvania. If you support this initiative, you can ask your representative to vote for this bill. Those who live in Huntingdon can write to Representative Mike Fleck at 301 Penn Street or call 644-2996.
We need all types of medicine to cover the gamut of health problems. Adding naturopathic medicine to our health care system would bring a form of treatment that, together with conventional medicine, has the potential to provide a comprehensive, optimal approach. In addition, if we can shift our focus from disease care to disease prevention and wellness, it is very likely that we will not only have the money to cover health care for everyone but that we will also have the resources to provide tertiary care to all those who need it.
True health care reform must minimize costs and maximize health. An integrative approach that includes naturopathic medicine promises to provide both.
The Huntingdon Health and Wellness Association makes no medical claims or recommendations. Check with your doctor about your specific health care needs. For more information on the Huntingdon Health and Wellness Association, contact Jennifer Champion, Program Coordinator, The Natural Connection, at 814-667-2097 or firstname.lastname@example.org.