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New White Paper From the Institute for Natural Medicine Shines Light on Primary Care

Michelle Simon, PhD, ND Michelle Simon, PhD, ND

One of the reasons that I entered naturopathic medical school was to become part of the solution to an underperforming health care system. I was inspired to join the ranks of NDs in delivering whole-person, preventive therapies and natural medicine. Imagine if that transformation were integrated into primary care with conventionally trained doctors and allied health professionals. This is the foundation of a new white paper just released by the Institute for Natural Medicine (INM). The paper, Naturopathic Physicians as Whole Health Specialists, The Future is Whole Person Health Care, is a collaborative project from INM and the Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) with review expertise from doctors of multiple modalities, the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Colleges (AANMC), Foundations of Naturopathic Medicine Institute (FNMI), and the Naturopathic Physicians Research Institute (NPRI).

The white paper’s stakeholders are confident that the information presented serves as a blueprint for health care leaders, decision-makers, educators and providers to integrate and incorporate the beneficial values of naturopathic medicine into conventional primary care medicine. As the future of primary care hangs in the balance due to doctor shortages, licensed naturopathic doctors are ideally suited to fill in the gaps with knowledge that is lacking in many clinical settings. There is a strong need to bridge the benefits of the conventional medical system with one that prioritizes preventive therapeutic approaches.

As the executive summary says: “Licensed naturopathic doctors contribute an accessible, effective model of primary and specialty clinical care to address these unprecedented current and future health care challenges. Its comprehensive systems approach to clinical decision-making addresses underlying contributions to disease and incorporates behavioral, lifestyle and other interventions to support disease prevention and to improve patient outcomes.” Naturopathic medicine is:

• Comprehensive in its approach to whole health, whole-person primary care.

• Focused on addressing underlying causes of acute and chronic diseases.

• Dedicated to health promotion, minimally invasive therapies and reducing health care costs.

• Individualized to engage patients and to support health-related lifestyle and behavioral change.

Why Naturopathic Medicine Now?

Just as this article was being written, the Primary Care Collaborative was calling for primary care doctors to provide feedback on how the pandemic was affecting their own health and the health of their practice. Burnout is real and some primary care clinics are closing, which will only add to the pending shortages. In fact, there is a projected shortage by 2033 of as many as 139,000 doctors—many in primary care.

Naturopathic doctors are at the ready to integrate their knowledge and training for a naturopathic model of care into the primary care settings. The naturopathic medical community can easily and quickly demonstrate the clinical efficacy of naturopathic theory and practice in clinical and academic settings, in the following manner:

1. Illustrate robust models of interprofessional collaboration and integrative practice between naturopathic doctors and other licensed health care providers.

2. Advocate for further inclusion of naturopathic doctors within the current health care workforce, including the clinical, educational, research and public health sectors.

3. Collaborate with other health care professionals to share knowledge, while working toward the collective goal of enhancing whole health care for an increasingly receptive public.

Therapeutic Order for Treatment and Prevention of Most Common Conditions

Naturopathic medicine teaches the patient how diet, lifestyle and gentle treatments can address some common conditions. The paper illustrates this with a common patient journey for gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD) by showing a typical treatment using naturopathic medicine and one using conventional medicine. For the patient seeing a naturopathic doctor, there are five steps that the patient will experience before options such as medications or invasive diagnostics are considered. In comparison, a conventional approach moves the patient through three stages of treatment from dietary changes to a series of medications including H2 inhibitors or proton pump inhibitors, followed by endoscopy and surgery if symptoms are not relieved within a given period of time.

Not only does this type of care offer focused patient engagement, but it is also proven to be less costly and provide excellent patient satisfaction. The white paper delves into numerous examples of how naturopathic medicine is and can be used to address some of the most pressing health needs of our time such as pain management, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and mental health complaints. Health care systems are under such pressure to be financially stable that perhaps the need for innovation could include incorporating NDs as a source of new approaches that prioritize lesser-cost interventions.

The paper argues that now is the time for naturopathic doctors to contribute their unique and valuable expertise in primary care and other patient settings to help support long-term disease prevention and improve patient outcomes for primarily lifestyle-related diseases.

For information on the white paper, please reach out to me at msimon@naturemed.org.

Michelle Simon, PhD, ND President & CEO, Institute for Natural Medicine

In 1992, the leadership core of naturopathic doctors established the Institute for Natural Medicine (INM) as a not for profit organization dedicated to advancing natural medicine. The purpose of the INM is to increase awareness of, broaden public access to, and encourage research about natural medicine and therapies. Among its milestones the INM counts the launch of the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (AANMC) as an independent organization, leading California’s efforts to obtain licensure, developing an interactive childhood education program focused on healthy eating and lifestyles called Naturally Well in 2017, and expanding residency access by establishing and funding a residency program in 2018. INM has joined forces with the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), serving as the charitable arm, to deepen access to naturopathic care, public education and research. Dr. Michelle Simon serves as president and CEO of INM, is a licensed naturopathic physician, clinician, educator, and leader in many organizations dedicated to improving the quality and delivery of health care. In addition to holding a naturopathic doctorate from Bastyr University, she also holds a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Simon has served on the boards for the Integrative Healthcare Policy Consortium (IHPC), the AANP and the Naturopathic Physicians Research Institute (NPRI). Dr. Simon also served nine years on the Washington State Health Technology Clinical Committee which is part of the Health Technology Assessment program that examines the scientific evidentiary basis for efficacy, safety and cost effectiveness of health care technologies. She was also an invited participant for health care economics at “Summit on Integrative Medicine and the Health of the Public” at the Institute for Medicine (IOM) in 2009. Dr. Simon was recognized as the 2018 Physician of the Year by the AANP.