Naturopathic Medicine and the Health Care Crisis

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First, let me say that I believe in conventional medicine, and I am grateful for it. The conventional system has done an excellent job at reducing the incidence of infectious disease, treating once-fatal infectious diseases when they occur, and saving lives in acute situations and trauma cases.  I have high respect for my conventional colleagues.

That said – for chronic disease (comprising around 72% of physician visits), there are a few key points that require attention.

  1. The Need for Prevention.  Chronic Western diseases are (70-90%) related to lifestyle choices (which means they’re almost entirely preventable).  But the current system is not designed to prevent; it is designed to treat symptoms.  Insurance reimbursement is heavily based on what is “medically necessary” – i.e. symptoms that need immediate attention at the time of the visit, rather than preventative measures.
  2. Adverse Drug Reactions.  According to this study, adverse drug events account for 4.5 million outpatient visits yearly – risk goes up with multiple medications, of course.
  3. High Costs: the United States spends more per capita on health care than any other country in the world – a whopping $8,233 per person, or 17.6% of the economy – more than two and a half times more than most other developed countries.
  4. Do We Actually Live Longer?  The United States is ranked 40th in the world for longevity – younger than citizens of most other first world countries, despite the fact that we spend more on health care than any other country in the world.  The National Research Council blames this on smoking primarily, followed by obesity and lack of exercise.  (Translation: lifestyle issues.)

How Naturopathic Medicine can answer these issues:

  1. Naturopathic medicine reduces the need for medical intervention.  You’ve heard the saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?”  This study shows that patients who use alternative medicine require 61% fewer drug prescriptions and 55% less conventional medical care.
  2. Naturopathic Care (as it’s meant to be) is non-suppressive and free of side effects.  The naturopathic philosophy at its core is that the body is designed to heal itself, and will do so if obstacles to cure are removed and the appropriate conditions for health are made available.  (For more see here.)  It is certainly possible to use naturopathic medicine to treat symptoms, and in these cases natural therapies can also be suppressive and/or cause side effects, just like their conventional counterparts.  But this is not the core philosophy.
  3. Naturopathic medicine is cheap.  It doesn’t always look this way to the patient at first, because most naturopathic visits are cash based, while conventional treatment is covered by insurance and therefore requires only a copay.  But if you look at the raw cost of treatment in both realms, this study shows that lifestyle intervention is about 77.5%-84.8% cheaper.  Another study shows that natural health interventions not only improve health outcomes, but are more cost effective than conventional treatment by 3.7-73%.
  4. Naturopathic Interventions Improve LongevityThis study shows that of a 20,000 sample, those patients who did not smoke, were physically active, only drank alcohol moderately and had at least 5 servings of fruits and veggies daily had a 4-fold lower risk of mortality than those with the highest health risk factors, and they also gained, essentially, 14 years of life!

So… perhaps it’s time for a paradigm shift?  (Just my $0.02.)

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