What to Expect from Naturopathic Medicine
When you decide to visit a naturopathic physician, you will probably have an experience that in many ways is similar to a visit with a conventional medical doctor, but that is very different in other ways.
Once you make an appointment, you will probably be asked to complete an intake and history form. This may be sent to you ahead of time, or you may be asked to complete it when you arrive for your visit. It is important to fill out the form completely and honestly so that your naturopathic doctor (ND) can begin to learn about you as a whole person by reviewing the information before or during the visit.
Your First Visit
Your visit will likely be longer than a visit to an MD, with typical visits to ND’s lasting an hour for new patients and 30-45 minutes for returning patients. In addition, your ND will spend a good deal of time with you in the room.
Usually, an interview with you will be done to get detailed information about your symptoms or concerns. After this interview is complete, a physical examination will most likely be completed. The physical examination will vary depending on what your concerns are, and could range from a brief and focused exam to a comprehensive examination of your entire body.
Once your ND has completed these steps, she/he will determine if and what other testing might be appropriate. Other tests could include blood, salivary, urine or stool tests, X-rays or other imaging such as ultrasound or MRI, and other more specialized testing as appropriate.
Your ND will review and synthesize all of this information and come up with a diagnosis, which is the technical name for your disease or condition. In addition an ND will develop an assessment or impression, which is an analysis of what the ND thinks are contributing factors or causes for your diagnosis or diagnoses. This analysis will include factors such as your current diet, exercise, sleep, and other habits. It will also include possible external factors such as allergen exposure, toxic exposures, and mental emotional factors such as stress.
Once your ND completes the assessment process, they will develop a treatment strategy to address the causes of your problems. They may also recommend treatments to help you with troublesome symptoms. If your problems require conventional medications, some ND’s will prescribe those for you; others will refer you to a conventional physician for them. In most cases, you will be asked to make some changes in your diet and lifestyle habits. You are considered a partner in this treatment approach, and without your active involvement, naturopathic medicine is less likely to help you. If a serious disease is diagnosed or suspected where surgery or other conventional therapy is indicated, your ND will refer you to an appropriate conventional physician to evaluate and manage or co-manage that condition.
Treatment strategies will vary widely depending on what you have been diagnosed with. Commonly used therapies in naturopathic medicine include diet, exercise, nutritional supplementation such as vitamins and minerals, plant or botanical medicines, hydrotherapy (water therapy), homeopathy, and physical medicine which is hands on therapy to restore proper function to your bones, joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
Your ND will want to follow-up with you after a period of time to make sure you are improving. The number of follow-up visits and how often they occur will vary widely and depend mostly on what you have been diagnosed with and what your treatment plan is.
The cost of visiting an ND will also vary widely depending on the complexity of your case, how much time you spend with the ND, and how much additional testing is required. Fees for new patient visits vary from $100-$300, and return visits can range from $50-$200. Many offices and clinics have discounts for payments in cash at the time of service. Some also have sliding scale discounts, so be sure to ask about these options. If you are seeing a licensed ND who is practicing in a licensed state, your insurance company may cover some or all of your visit and testing fees. A few may also cover your prescribed supplements and medications. Some offices and clinics will bill the insurance company for you. Others will provide you with a claim form that you can submit yourself. Contact your insurance company to see if you have a plan that covers care from an ND.
Finding an Naturopathic Doctor
It is important that you find an ND that is reputable and that you feel comfortable with. Many ND’s offer a free introductory meeting in order for you to meet the doctor and ask general questions about what their approach might be to your particular problem. These visits can be helpful for you to decide if you like the style and approach of the provider, Naturopathic physicians treat each person individually, and can have very differing styles and approaches to similar problems. Make sure you have confidence in the person you choose to be on your health care team. Remember, you are the boss of your team, and you are responsible for “hiring and firing” your team. The ND works for you, and you have the right to expect professional, competent, and prompt customer service.
To maximize your chances of finding a reputable naturopathic physician, there are several things you can do. Word of mouth is a reliable and valuable way to find out about ND’s in your community. Ask friends and family members if they have seen an ND, and what their experience was. If you live in a state that licenses naturopathic physicians, you can look up ND’s on the state government site and find out if any complaints have been lodged against that physician. If you don’t know any ND’s in your community and have not gotten any recommendations by word of mouth, there are state and national naturopathic associations that have listings of ND’s in their jurisdictions. The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) is the national professional association for licensed naturopathic physicians. They have an on-line directory that you can search by name, city, state, zip code, etc. The website is www.naturopathic,org. All ND’s listed on this site have graduated from a four year, accredited, doctoral naturopathic medical program, have passed a national licensing examination, and have a license to practice in a jurisdiction that licenses ND’s. State naturopathic professional associations usually have a similar, statewide directory.
Working Together for Your Health
Naturopathic physicians can partner with you to help you understand why you are not feeling good, and assist you to find ways to restore your health and well-being. By working with you to promote the body’s ability to heal, ND’s can show you just how powerful the healing power of nature can be, and empower you to take control of your health.