A shortage of primary care physicians may leave patients looking for alternatives, like naturopathic doctors. But before you opt for an ND over an MD, Consumer Reports says there are things to consider.
Naturopaths say they base their practice on a specific principal: start with the most natural remedy possible to treat illness or maintain health.
But there is a lot of confusion around this profession.
Some practitioners are naturopathic doctors, or NDs. That is someone who has also completed a four-year naturopathic training program and has passed a licensing exam. Others, just called naturopaths, are unlicensed but can still practice as long as they stick to basic lifestyle advice. And even the license has limitations.
In some states people that have again passed the licensing exam can write some prescriptions for hormone therapy and for some other things. In other states they can't. And in some states they can’t write any prescriptions at all.
The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians says it wants to see all 50 states recognize NDs as licensed medical professionals, able to prescribe medication and diagnose diseases. But critics say wait, they haven't actually gone to medical school, and effectively giving them uniform licensure recognition is allowing them to practice medicine without actually having been trained medically.
One appeal of naturopathy is the chance for individualized care. Naturopaths will sit down and take time and talk to you and develop a plan that is completely personalized to you. But Consumer Reports warns that treatments like IV vitamin infusions and botanical medicines have not been supported by scientific evidence. Some of these things actually can be unsafe, and people can be harmed and have been harmed by them so it's not necessarily as safe or as natural as it sounds.
Also keep in mind vitamins and supplements aren't usually covered by insurance, so patients may end up paying a lot more out of pocket than expected.
If you do choose to see a naturopath, Consumer Reports recommends doing it in conjunction with a primary care provider, someone who has undergone rigorous medical training.