What is Naturopathic Medicine?
Naturopathic medicine is primary care and complementary medicine that treats the underlying cause of disease; it is the art and science of supporting the natural healing processes of the patient and removing any obstacles to those processes when possible. It is the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of physical, mental and emotional conditions; and it is the promotion of well-being using therapeutics that primarily support or enhance a patient’s overall health.
In BC, naturopathic doctors (NDs) are licensed to provide primary health care: Health care that emphasizes disease prevention by providing an individualized, patient-centered focus on healthy living, natural health products and therapies, diet, appropriate diagnostic testing and, when appropriate, integrating conventional medical care with complementary care.
Seeing an ND for the first time may be similar to seeing an MD—all primary care providers review health history and request standard diagnostic tests—but a consultation with an ND also encompasses a thorough assessment of personal health risks, including diet, exercise and stress.
An emphasis on disease prevention, nutritional advice, and natural health products are common practice amongst NDs. Underlying causes of disease are addressed with patients, not just symptoms. Educating patients on risk, considering contraindications / synergistic actions with drug and natural supplements, and encouraging self-responsibility for health are the foundation of the ND-patient relationship.
Patient care focused on wellness encompasses physical, mental, emotional, genetic, environmental and social factors. Using evidence-based and evidence informed therapeutic options for patients, your ND may recommend botanical (or herbal) medicines, techniques used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) such as acupuncture, as well as physical medicine to correct stress or trauma-induced misalignments of muscle and the skeletal system.
Many naturopathic doctors in BC have additional college-certified training in pharmaceutical prescriptions, immunization for those five years and older, IV and injection therapies, and physical medicine procedures such as prolotherapy.
Use the toggles below for answers to commonly asked questions:
How are naturopathic physicians trained?
Naturopathic doctors in BC receive a minimum of three years pre-medical training at a university then complete four years post-graduate training at an accredited naturopathic medical school. Naturopathic doctors complete an estimated 1500 hours in basic bio-medical sciences, 1900 hours of standard medical therapeutics (e.g., pharmacology, family medicine, internal medicine, etc.) and extensive training in naturopathic treatments as described in this document. Naturopathic doctors pass both provincial and international exams prior to receiving licensure.
What can I expect on my first visit to an ND?
Naturopathic doctors conduct a comprehensive intake focusing on a patient’s health history as well as their current medical issues. This history may involve a physical exam and the use of standard diagnostic instruments and laboratory tests. Naturopathic protocols are developed using not only standard lab tests but also lifestyle details such as dietary habits, emotional stress, exercise and exposure to environmental hazards.
What conditions and illnesses do naturopathic physicians commonly treat?
Virtually all acute and chronic conditions may benefit from treatment by naturopathic physicians. Medical emergencies are referred to the local hospital.
What are the advantages of naturopathic care?
Naturopathic medicine emphasizes the promotion of health, prevention of disease, patient education and individual responsibility, arguably the most therapeutically cost-effective approaches to preventing and treating chronic disease. Doctors individualize treatment based upon the objective observation of the nature of health and disease, blending centuries-old natural and non-toxic therapies with current advances in the study of health and human systems, covering most aspects of family health from prenatal to geriatric care. Treatments are continually re-examined in the light of scientific advances.
Most patients find there are three major benefits to seeing an ND: primary care prevention-oriented medicine; valid complementary approaches when other treatments are causing side effects; or chronic
diseases for which conventional medicine has no effective treatment.
Can I see an ND who is also an MD?
No. In BC doctors must be licensed as either an MD or an ND. They cannot be licensed as both at once. In addition, MDs cannot bill for complementary medicine. There is a patient fee for complementary medicine provided by an MD (e.g., chelation) just as there is with seeing an ND. Most NDs provide primary health care; all licensed NDs complete certification exams in both pharmacology and pharmacognosy (i.e., the interaction of botanical medicines and drugs).
Are naturopathic doctors licensed health care providers?
Yes. Naturopathic physicians have been legislated in BC as primary care providers since 1923, first under an Act which included MDs then, in 1936, under distinct self-regulating legislation.
While interest in safe, effective, non-drug therapies waned with the postwar fascination of medical technology, there has been a marked shift back towards complementary medicine as an appropriate prevention and treatment tool. Naturopathic medicine is one of the fastest growing health disciplines in Canada. In fact, in BC, the number of licensed NDs doubled between 2000 and 2010.
Do naturopathic physicians prescribe drugs?
Many NDs in BC are trained and licensed to prescribe an extensive list of prescription medications. These may be used along with the previously listed therapies, as deemed appropriate, to provide primary care with a focus on wellness and prevention. Many botanical medicines, natural therapeutics and other traditional items had become “scheduled” or prescription only over the years; prescribing permits licensed NDs to access “historical use” natural medicines.
How do I locate a naturopathic physician?
A list of NDs searchable by name, city, therapy, test and ailment is available at www.bcnd.ca. Each doctor listing includes details on their education, training, expertise and areas of focus, as well as links to personal and clinic websites.
If you are unsure of what to expect when you visit an ND, or if you would like more information on the doctors in your area, feel free to contact BCND.
Does insurance cover naturopathic care?
Most extended health care plans cover naturopathic doctors, usually between $200-500 per year. Some plans also include lab or diagnostic testing coverage. You can clarify coverage with your benefits manager. For individuals with a CRA recognized health spending account, visits to an ND are 100 per cent covered. In respect to the provincial MSP plan, there is limited coverage for individuals on premium assistance or social assistance only. Many NDs will direct bill your extended health plan provider; enquire in advance of your visit.