As a naturopathic physician, I often get asked by patients or other doctors what makes a naturopathic physician different than other health care providers. "What can a naturopathic doctor do for me?" Honestly, there are a lot of ways that naturopathic physicians differ from other health care providers AND there are a lot of ways that we are similar.
BUT... and this is a big but.
Not all naturopathic doctors practice the same way. Some are specialists who are focused on one illness or part of the body. Some others are primary care physicians who practice much like a conventional doctor, so much so that you might not notice much of a difference in your care. And even others are experts in certain treatment modalities that shape their plans and patient care. You might be thinking... What type of naturopathic physician are you then?
I practice integrative naturopathic primary care.
This method of practice has been developed by me (Dr. Emma) over the past decade of experience in healthcare. It is the core of all services I offer through EmPower U Health and Wellness LLC and it is why I believe that integrative care is the gold standard for patient health and happiness. There are 5 core values at the center of my method of medicine: Listen, Investigate, EmPower, Educate, and Restore. I use my background in personal training, the 6 principles of naturopathic medicine, public health, primary care, and coaching to put these core values into action.
The 6 Principles of Naturopathic Medicine
As a doctor I find it vitally important to truly listen to my patients and clients to be able to provide optimal care. This of course means listen to their health concerns, but more importantly than that I want to hear their story. It is too often that I meet someone who establishes care with me and after our first appointment thanks me for listening.
This is a sad truth in medicine. A typical office visit with a physician is anywhere from 5-20 minutes with an average of 17.4 minutes per this study My new patient appointments are 60 minutes of face-to-face time and follow up appointments are anywhere from 30-45 minutes depending on what we are working on. I often find that even after our first 60-minute appointment, we have just scratched the surface of a person's own health experience.
Some things I am actively listening for include current symptoms and health complaints or concerns, previous diagnoses to see if they match the patient's health story, treatments tried (or failed), and life experiences that may influence health. In public health we call these social determinants of health. All of this and more make up you... I also will talk about what your health and wellness goals are and what type of treatments resonate with you, but more to come on that in the EmPower section.
Part of the reason I went into medicine is because I love puzzles. Like get me a new puzzle and I will work at it until its done sort of love. My other love is research. I am always fascinated by how quickly new research and treatment approaches are published. But here is a fascinating and (maybe) frightening fact for you...
This means that the information doctors and other healthcare providers learned in medical school is outdated before they even graduate! That is why I find it vital to research each case like it is new information, because there probably is new information out there. Experience and practice is important, but science, evidence, and research is how we figured out that berberine (a component of the Oregon grape plant) is useful in lowering cholesterol and controlling blood sugar.
So how does that apply to you? When I complete my initial intake, evaluate you for a new symptom, diagnose you with an illness/disease, and treat it I use science, evidence, research, and experience to guide. Sometimes I'll even print out and bring a study to discuss during our visit (if you are into that sort of thing). It allows my patient's to have the most up-to-date care and the best bang for their buck. I am not a fan of "shooting in the dark" so to speak when it comes to someone's health.
The namesake of EmPower U Health and Wellness LLC is EmPower. Now it is a cute play on words, because hey I am Dr. Emma, but it is way more than that. I strive to empower all of my patients to be active participants in their health journey. This is important for several reasons, but I will discuss two, treatment success and health advocacy.
When you are a part of a decision and put some effort behind it, there are studies to show that you are more likely to succeed in whatever change you are making. This is why when I discuss a treatment plan with a patient, I will often ask, "what treatment modalities or types resonate with you?" It is not because I am unsure of what would be the best treatment route. No, rather if I think herbal medicine would be the direction to go and I want to make an alcohol based tincture, then come to find out that you are sensitive to taste and will never take that bitter tasting thing we are not going to have great adherence or success of that treatment plan. Another reason, is because sometimes life is too stressful to take on a full dietary/lifestyle overhaul and maybe taking a medication daily is what you can do right now. All of those options are okay and it is how we use shared decision making to come up with the plan that is right for you. I might nudge or encourage you to go in a certain direction, BUT at the end of the day it is your body and your choice...
Speaking of health advocacy... that's another reason I EmPower my patients to be an active member of their health team and champion for their body. Too often I have patients or clients who are unsure of their medical history, what medications they are on and what for, and even what surgeries they have had in the past (and no they do not have selective memory loss or dementia). When we meet, discuss care, and initiate treatment I make sure that you leave with a detailed written (or emailed) plan that explains your diagnosis, treatment approach, and after visit directions this is of course after we discuss the direction we are taking at length.
I will start this by saying, in my world outside of medicine I am a college professor, so the fact that one of my tenants of medical practice is education should be no surprise. I promise I won't make you take a test as my patient (maybe a quiz). In all seriousness, a principle of naturopathic medicine is doctor as teacher and I take that principle to heart. I want you to be involved in your health story. I told you earlier, that sometimes I will bring a study into a treatment plan discussion. I also talk with you about why your diagnosis fits your current health picture, what is going on with your body from a physiologic (or pathologic standpoint), and how the treatment we are trying works to correct or support it.
It has been studied that patients (myself included) forget 40-80% of what is discussed in a medical visit the minute you leave the clinic. Whoops... guilty.
Knowing what we know about us as humans, I find it my duty to ensure that you at least really understand that 20-60% that you remember and have the rest of it written down with a way to get ahold of me later when you forget how to make that tea or how many times per day to take the medicine I prescribed. Most of my successful patient journeys have been with clients/patients who are motivated to make lifestyle changes, learn about their body, and follow their treatment plans.
Last but certainly not least on the list, is restore. When I think of the body I will often think of it in terms of physiology. The human body strives to stay in a state of equilibrium or balance. When symptoms arise, illness takes hold, or pathology sets in it is typically due to the body being out of balance (not able to move back to equilibrium) so to speak. That means that my job as your doctor is to identify what part(s) have gone wonky and how do we move them back into normal functioning. Often it involves an approach that is multifactorial.
Here's an example of how I put this step and the other 4 above in practice...
I have a patient, we will call her Susie (I have no Susie's in my practice, but hey if your name is Susie feel free to schedule an appointment). Susie had issues with elevated blood pressure for years that had recently gotten worse over the past 6 months. Her previous doctors had placed her on blood pressure medication, which was somewhat controlling her blood pressure, but it still spike when she was under stress (and she had a lot of stress). When discussing her case, I worked her up for common underlying causes of elevated blood pressure paying special attention to the heart, lungs, kidneys, and nervous system that often work together to control pressure in the body. All of those systems were operating as normal, so we had to go deeper.
When reviewing her other symptoms, I noticed that 6 months ago she started having severe hot flashes, 10+ per night, waking her from sleep and was sleeping an average of 1-3 hours nightly. She also noted increased stress the past 6 months due to a family member getting ill. I decided to address her sleep by treating her hot flashes so we started Maca a herb that has been used to treat hot flashes by me clinically in the past, but the evidence from research is not strong at this time for this indication. We started this supplement with the timeline of giving it 2 months to see if she saw improvement. I also provided her with health education and homework to increase water consumption and complete some stress reduction exercises. After 1 month she returned to office and her hot flashes had improved by 60%. She was sleeping through most of the night and was visibly more relaxed in office. Her blood pressure measured at this visit was still high, but lower by 20 points systolic (higher number) and 10 points diastolic (lower number).
From there we adjusted the dosage and discussed other health components including diet and lifestyle like movement. Her diet was pristine, but she was not getting much fiber. Also her bloodwork showed some hormone imbalance which was to be expected after going through menopause, BUT we started flaxseed daily to balance hormones, increase fiber, and healthy fat. I also started magnesium nightly at this visit to help improve sleep, muscle relaxation, and magnesium can help relax smooth muscles to open up the blood vessels in the body lower blood pressure. Our next visit, she was now sleeping completely through the night and reported her hot flashes were 90% resolved. Her blood pressure was now only mildly elevated and she wanted to discuss tapering off of her medication overtime.
This patient and I continued to work together and I am happy to say that she is now off of her blood pressure medication completely with controlled blood pressure in the normal range, sleeping through the night without hot flashes, and much less stressed. We had to restore the balance of her hormones within the endocrine system to decrease physiologic stress on the body to allow her blood pressure to return to baseline. This is restore at its finest!
If you made it this far then go you! I hope this provided you with some framework for how I practice medicine and what a naturopathic doctor/physician can do for you! Also, congrats for reading so here is a picture of my pup and I.