Tuesday, March 31, 2009
More Colorado consumers are turning to naturopathic medicine and naturopathic doctors every day for help with their health concerns, but NDs are currently unregulated in the state of Colorado. House Bill 1175, now before the legislature, attempts to address this.
HB 1175 is a very specific bill with two very specific purposes:
- to set up a 3 year task force, run by the Dept. of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) and consisting of NDs and MDs (with input from any other person they feel necessary to give information about the issues) to study ND regulation in Colorado and present their findings to the legislature.
- to register eligible NDs in Colorado (those with a 4 year degree from an accredited, in-residence - vs online or distance - naturopathic medical school) and set up a scope of practice and other rules and regulations. The bill "sunsets" (ends) automatically in 2014, by which time the task force must make recommendations about regulation.
There is clear, concise language in the bill which states that it does not apply to any other person. Those affected by the bill will be:
- those eligible to be registered as naturopathic doctors in Colorado and
- anyone else calling themselves a naturopathic doctor or practicing naturopathic medicine (which, by definition in the bill must include diagnosis and treatment).
There are those with non-accredited, distance learning, online degrees who currently call themselves naturopathic doctors. They would not be allowed to portray themselves as such, but would still be allowed to use the term "naturopath".
In fact, these people are already in violation of the Colorado Consumer Protection Act, which reserves the title "doctor" for those who have received a doctorate through an accredited program. HB 1175 simply reinforces this title protection and allows for regulation by the medical board.
This bill would have no effect on homeopaths, herbal practitioners, massage therapists, reiki practitioners, health coaches, dieticians, cooking schools, natural food/vitamin stores or anybody else, except as defined above. In fact, Vitamin Cottage supports the bill and has sent people to testify FOR it.
I support this bill for many reasons, but the three most important are
- it would allow me to practice legally in Colorado, albeit with a very limited scope compared to my training
- it would protect the public from potential harm by both registered NDs and those falsely calling themselves such, and
- it creates a group to study this specific issue in depth and present their findings to the legislature, who has little time for a real understanding of every issue.
I understand the desire to keep the government out of our business. I support free enterprise and I believe that people should be able to offer and receive services of their choosing. I don't think the government has any place in medical decision making.
In my opinion, however, one of the functions of even a very limited government is ensuring public safety. There are those who will say, "I can research my own health care practitioner, I don't need the government to do it for me." To that, I have a couple of thoughts:
First, there are those out there right now whose only drive is to make money. They put fake diplomas on their walls and websites, list fake degrees and fake association memberships. And, in fact, some of them hurt people. At best, they are defrauding the public. At worst, they are killing people. And even if you are a person who will look beyond the fancy-looking diplomas (and I would offer that many people are not), it can be difficult to get to the bottom of who they really are. Will you call the school they list to see if they are actually a graduate? Will you find out if the "board" that supposedly "licenses" them is even real? Will you find out if they actually belong to the professional association they claim to belong to, or if it is a real association?
Second, imagine, even for a moment, that all doctors were unregulated. Would they have your best interests at heart? Are you prepared to research where they went to school or if they actually did? Will you put your health or life on the line to see a doctor? There are good reasons for regulating doctors. There is a higher standard for those holding themselves out as experts in their field. I believe it is wishful thinking to assume that just because someone claims to be a healer or doctor, that they are honorable.
What it boils down to in my mind is this: "Buyer beware" is not an appropriate standard for doctors. You are not just putting your money on the line when you seek professional health care. You are putting your health and potentially your life on the line. It is an incredible honor and responsibility to be a doctor. It takes real training and clinical experience. If a person is going to call themselves a doctor, then I believe that the public has a right to know that they are, in fact, getting a doctor.
This is where a well-informed government has an appropriate role, and this is what HB 1175 will provide - a means to not only regulate naturopathic doctors and provide for the public safety, but also to actually educate our legislators about this complex issue.
If you would like to read the most current version of the bill (including amendments), it can be found here.
I did my training in Oregon, a state which has licensed NDs since the 1920s. I am trained as a primary care physician. I completed over 4,000 hours of didactic and clinical work to acheive my 4 year ND degree. In my years at school I worked together with many different practitioners to provide quality care to patients. There is no shortage in Oregon of other alternative health care providers. Regulation of NDs doesn't preclude the practice of any other profession. What there IS is a wealth of licensed NDs who can legally offer their kind of care to whoever wants it. (And many insurance providers will even cover it. Imagine that.)
I appreciate you taking the time to understand this issue fully. I know many of you will be inundated with emails from those who oppose this bill and I'm glad to be able to present the facts as I see them. If anyone has questions about the bill, about what I do, or anything else, I welcome your emails.