Where Does Naturopathic Medicine Fit into the Canadian Health Care System? Isn't it Time all Health Care Providers Work Together?

The following is a reproduction of a Millennium Health Centre editorial article which appeared in the Seaway News newspaper in Cornwall, Ontario, Canada. The content is shortened to accommodate a newspaper space allotment. As such, it is not academically cited with references. These are available, so please feel free to email your questions.


Dr. Stephen F. Jones B.Comm., N.D.
Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine

The use of what has formerly been deemed 'alternative' medicine is on the rise in Canada. Statistics Canada report that some 10% of Canadians regularly use an 'alternative' health practitioner (Naturopathic Doctor, Chiropractor, Acupuncturist etc.), while polls by Angus Reid reveal that 42% of Canadians turn to 'natural health ' products first when treating their health needs. How does this use of 'alternative' practitioners fit into the overall scheme of health care?

The answer to this question appears to depend on who you ask. While the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons has recently held conferences examining the use of alternative medical practices, a few M.D.'s are starting to use acupuncture, supplements and even botanical medicines, and schools such as Harvard are integrating alternative medicine into their conventional medical education, the general response by many M.D.s is that 'alternative' medicine is still on the periphery of real health care.

That view differs when a practitioner such as this columnist is asked the same question. Having completed 4500 hours of conventional medical studied, including clinical and laboratory diagnosis, pathology and physiology, licensed Naturopathic Doctors, like chiropractors and other licensed practitioners, do not believe 'alternative' medicine is at odds with conventional treatments. Being trained in the same language and testing procedures, Naturopathic Doctors are able to and wish to work in conjunction with conventional medical doctors. Infact, many treatments available are structured to work in collaboration with existing medical procedures, such as treatments to reduce the diarrhea and fatigue associated with chemotherapy. The point may be that these treatments are not always 'alternative' to conventional treatment, but rather an important, therapeutic adjunct. Each form of medicine has qualities inherent to its 'scope of practice' and a greater understanding of this point on the part of all health providers would serve to improve the health care of Canadians.

So why then do so may patients fail to inform their medical doctor of their treatments by 'alternative' practitioners ? Why do patients seek 'alternative' health providers when their condition has worsened to an end-stage level? The answer seems to be that the public seems to mirror the health industry's belief of conventional medicine being at odds with its 'alternative' cousins. They also mirror the fundamental misunderstanding of the training, intent and compatibility of most licensed 'alternative' health providers.

Before his resignation, Ontario Premier Mike Harris defined such health providers as Naturopathic Doctors to be part of his ' 21 Steps to Health Reform'. In doing so, he noted the need for future health care to be integrated, drawing upon the unique strengths of each form of health care. Perhaps this is a lesson to be learned in ongoing health reform discussions. Misunderstanding, misinformation and tribal rhetoric will not stop Canadians desire for integrated health care. Perhaps we should forget about health care 'alternatives' and focus upon health care 'options'.