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I Have X Condition...What Doctor Should I See?

This is based on another piece that I wrote for The Hearty Soul. The title seen in the photo is not exactly what the post is about so please don't be fooled! This post is really about the need for synergistic and complementary medicine. It is neither an attack on the conventional medical system, nor a piece to say that "natural alternatives" are faultless, because it's not true. I'd love to hear your opinion though so feel free to send me some comments!

North York naturopath, Toronto naturopath, naturopathic doctor

Many of us that have gone to see a doctor have had a less than stellar experience. Some of us have even had experiences that left us so frustrated and disappointed with the entire conventional medical system that we have sought other (“alternative”) healthcare options and never looked back.

It’s truly been a blessing and curse to have access to many different healthcare professionals. On one hand, it provides people with options and can empower people to engage in their own healthcare. On the other hand, it can be confusing as sometimes too many options are presented and we are left questioning which doctor or practitioner might provide the most benefit. There is also the potential for buying into trends and fads rather than sound medicine. The National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health include the following in their list of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM):

  • Acupuncture

  • Ayurveda

  • Chiropractic manipulation

  • Osteopathic manipulation

  • Deep breathing exercises, guided imagery, meditation

  • Diet based therapies

  • Energy healing, Reiki

  • Guided imagery

  • Homeopathy

  • Hypnosis

  • Massage

  • Movement therapies (ie. Feldenkrais, pilates)

  • Natural health products

  • Naturopathy

  • Progressive relaxation

  • Qi gong, Tai Chi, yoga

  • Traditional healers

In my opinion, there really isn’t one doctor or practitioner who would be the absolute best option for one particular symptom, condition, or person. In fact, I am a proponent of individuals having a healthcare team, and using each team member for certain strengths. As a healthcare provider, I often find myself faced with this reality—I am NOT an expert in all things! So as a responsible naturopathic doctor with the best interests of my patients at heart, I refer out when necessary, co-manage when possible, and believe that healthcare is not a matter of stroking my ego.

Now, please be clear that this is NOT an attack on the conventional medical system. We need medical doctors, we need hospitals, and we need some drugs. We also need primary care physicians who listen to their patients with compassion. There are times when yes, you should take those antibiotics because quite frankly, you could die, or because a short stint of antibiotics has been shown in research to be the most effective, least expensive, and/or safest treatment option available.

But what about all those other cases where you are experiencing symptoms that your medical doctor has not been able to ameliorate with drugs/surgery? Or for chronic conditions (ie. moderately high blood pressure, high cholesterol, chronic pain, etc) where you were prescribed pharmaceuticals indefinitely? People in those two categories are often the ones who end up frustrated, want to explore other options, and who end up interested in CAM.

You’ve seen the above broad range of therapeutic options that fall under the CAM umbrella, but who should you see? There is really no clear-cut answer to this since all cases are different and some might require more than one intervention. For non-emergent pain syndromes (ie. acute/chronic injuries), I might first consider seeing a chiropractor, osteopath, or massage therapist. For non-emergent digestive concerns, I would likely see a naturopathic doctor. Where it often gets tricky is in a more complex scenario, for example chronic low back pain with digestive concerns.

The point is that each CAM practitioner has strengths and weaknesses. Some have more general and overlapping skill sets with other practitioners and others have streamlined knowledge. Medical education also differs between professions—some may be considered primary healthcare providers while others specialize in a specific modality and do not have the ability to assess and diagnose medical conditions. It’s also important to take into account that some provinces/states may not regulate certain professions, which means that laws regarding what certain healthcare professionals can and cannot do differs quite a bit from state to state or province to province.

Currently, collaborative, integrative medicine seems like the ideal. Healthcare professionals, whether medical doctors or CAM practitioners, all have a responsibility to their patients to “first, do no harm.” If we are able to use the best aspects of both the conventional and alternative appropriately, imagine what that could mean for the future of healthcare!

Christine Cho, Toronto naturopath, north york naturopath, chronic pain, naturopathic doctor

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