ALTERNATIVE vs TRADITIONAL MEDICINE PROVIDERS
Naturopath? Homeopath?Allopath?Osteopath?What PATH should I take?
Have you ever wondered about the difference between various ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE providers and TRADITIONAL providers?
For instance, what does an ALLOPATHIC doctor do versus an OSTEOPATHIC or NATUROPATHIC physician? What does it mean to be an INTEGRATIVE PHYSICIAN? What is HOMEOPATHY? How are TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE (TCM) providers different than LICENSED ACUPUNCTURISTs (LAc)? It can be quite confusing for patients trying to find the right fit when seeking the best health care experience out there. I’ve outlined here some of the differences, which may help you to decide what type of provider you may benefit the most from seeing.
In the TRADITIONAL medicine setting, ALLOPATHIC doctors (i.e. M.D.’s) and OSTEOPATHIC doctors (D.O.’s) comprise what most people think of when they think of “doctors”. Both go through very similar training with the requirement for a 4yr undergraduate bachelor’s degree and then completion of 4 yrs of medical/osteopathic school learning the basics of medicine. Osteopaths take extra courses in the musculoskeletal system in their fundamental belief that the alignment and function of our bones, muscles and connective tissue strongly influence the whole body’s health. They learn how to do manipulations (Osteopathic Manipulative Technique, OMT) similar to chiropractic medicine. Both Allopaths and Osteopaths then do 3-8 yrs post-graduate training in residencies and fellowships in order to specialize in an area of medicine such as Pediatrics, Family Medicine, General Surgery, Neurology, Dermatology, etc. Both are required to be licensed through state licensing boards in order to practice medicine and both doctors typically obtain Board Certification in their areas of expertise. These Board Certifications require continuing education courses and periodic comprehensive examinations to prove ongoing proficiency.
INTEGRATIVE PHYSICIAN has been a generic term that providers use to specify that they try to integrate the whole person concept (mind, body, spirituality) when caring for patients. Most often it’s an integration of Eastern and Western medicine practices that utilize the best of both worlds in treatment options and a focus on prevention and the emphasis that the body has an inherent ability to heal itself it we can help patients to recognize what’s out of balance. The University of Arizona, through Dr Andrew Weil, offers several Integrative Medicine Residencies and Fellowship training for physicians and other health care providers looking to formalize their training in the integrative approach, University of Arizona Integrative Medicine Training. I completed his Integrative Medicine Fellowship in 2005. New in 2015, there is now a way for eligible providers to take a national examination to become Board Certified in the area of Integrative Medicine. See more at: American Board of Integrative Medicine .
COMPLEMENTARY and ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE (CAM) can encompass anything from a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) doctor, to an Acupuncturist, a Chiropracter, a provider of Ayurvedic medicine, Naturopathy or Homeopathy, massage therapy, yoga, Reiki/Energy medicine, herbal therapy, aromatherapy…as seen in the diagram below. I will delineate a few of these below…
TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE (TCM) has been used for over 2,500 years and bases it’s care upon the understanding that there is a vital life-force (or “Qi”) energy that flows through each person. Disease occurs when this energy flow is blocked and TCM practitioners utilize both acupuncture and herbal therapies and sometimes body work such as shiatsu, to help patients get back to a place of balance. Always look for a licensed and certified Diplomate of Oriental Medicine (Dipl O.M.) practitioner who has a Masters degree and has passed the National Certification Commision for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine’s exam, Oriental Medicine National Certification. Currently, only 43 states in the US require this certification to obtain a license to practice Chinese Medicine.
LICENSED ACUPUNCTURISTS (L.Ac), typically have over 2,700 hours of Master’s level training at a nationally-accredited school and have hands-on experience with 250 patients before passing their National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine exam for Acupuncture, Acupuncture National Certification. This is in contrast to being “certified in acupuncture (CAc),” which requires much less training. Any provider currently licensed in another specialty (i.e. dentist, nurse, physician, chiropractor) can take a course of 100-300 hours to learn about acupuncture. However, a CAc is not required to pass the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine’s exam.
CHIROPRACTORS utilize adjustments of the spine and nervous system to treat a variety of ailments, primarily neck, back and joint pain. Chiropractor training includes 4 yrs of an undergraduate degree before they are accepted to an accredited Chiropractic College to earn their Doctorate of Chiropractic care (D.C.). 1 yr of post-graduate clinical training is required after Chiropractic school. All 50 states in the US require licensing of Chiropractors through national board examinations after completion of training, Chiropractic Training.
HOMEOPATHS believe that “like cures like”, similar to how low dose shots of certain allergens are given to patients (i.e. “allergy shots”) that have bad allergies. Homeopathic treatments dilute substances (usually plant-based or minerals) to extremely low levels in the thought that these may stimulate the body to heal itself. All homeopathic remedies sold in the US have been regulated by the government since 1938 and considered generally safe because of this. Skeptics of homeopathy state that the level of dilution used removes most or all of the active ingredients and that if patients improve, it’s through the belief that they will improve, or the placebo effect. Currently, only 3 states require licensing for practicing homeopathy (AZ, NV, CT), and only MD’s or DO’s can obtain this license.
NATUROPATHIC DOCTORS (N.D.) emphasize disease prevention, wellness, and the body’s inherent ability to heal itself. In the event of disease, their tools include: nutritional therapy, botanical extracts, acupuncture, homeopathy and occasionally prescription medication to treat patients. In 16 states they are required to be licensed and board certified through the North American Board of Naturopathic Examiners, http://www.naturopathic.org/medicine.
AYURVEDIC MEDICINE is an ancient (5,000 yrs old) practice founded in India utilizing herbs, diet, yoga/exercise, detoxification, aromatherapy, psychological interventions, meditation to balance a person’s dosha, or life force. There are some controversial elements to Ayurvedic practices, such as detoxification through the purging of bowels or blood-letting. Currently, there are no certifying organizations or licensing requirements in the United States for someone to practice Ayurvedic medicine. Caution must be exercised when ordering Ayurvedic botanicals online as 20% were found to be contaminated with heavy metals such as mercury, lead and arsenic in a 2008 study, NIH Study Ayurvedic Contamination 2008.
The additional alternative methods mentioned above (massage, energy medicine, yoga, tai chi….) are fairly self-explanatory and many believe they can and should be incorporated into a balanced and healthy lifestyle.
So in conclusion, when you are seeking a healthcare provider, it’s critically important to understand what YOUR philosophy is on health and what level of involvement you would like in your own care. If you loathe “Big Pharma” and corporate medicine and feel that you know your body best, then seeking a provider who is open-minded about various methods of healing and empowering you to take care of yourself, is critically important. If you think “alternative medicine” is bogus and prefer to take a pill for every ache and pain you have, then seeking a traditional western-trained doc who views health the same as you, will be the right option.