Complementary alternative medicine: a rethink and a live chat!

Want to shake things up in the health care?  Stop pining for a family doctor and go searching for an expert in complementary alternative medicine (CAM). You might be surprised just how many Canadians see one. And you might discover what a growing number of your friends and colleagues have learned.  Naturopaths and chiropractors are doctors too; they're bright, competent and have a lot more time to spend on what ails you.

Back in 2008, the Canadian Community Health Survey found that one in five Canadians were unable to find a physician to treat them on a regular basis.  That means 5 million or more Canadians can't find a family doctor. I don't know about you, but I've heard those stats stated ruefully so many times I can recite them in my sleep.

Suppose I said 5 million Canadians can't find a naturopath? Or a chiropractor?  Now, that would be original. But it may not be as far off the mark as you might think. A 2007 report by the Fraser Institute found that nearly three-quarters of Canadians had used at least one alternative therapy sometime in their lives. 

Albertans led the way with 84 percent saying they had used an alternative therapy during their lifetime. They were closely followed by British Columbia. Turns out Quebecers and Atlantic Canadians are the least likely to have tried alternative medicine. 

The most commonly used complementary alternative therapies are massage, prayer, chiropractic, relaxation techniques and herbal remedies. In the Fraser Institute report, Canadians used complementary alternative therapies an average of nearly nine times per year.  And those treatments did not come cheap; the average amount paid out of pocket per year back in 2007 was $173, up from $93 recorded during the previous survey back in 1997.

Why do Canadians go to practitioners of complementary alternative medicine?  For Wade Peckham, a 20-something man originally from Calgary, the reason is simple:  for years, he suffered from intestinal cramps and other symptoms that defied diagnosis and relief from the many doctors he visited.  A few treatments from Jason Bachewich, a naturopathic doctor who practices in Winnipeg, and Peckham's symptoms were under control. 

You can check out Wade's story this week on the WCBA podcast. 

I have a message for my medical colleagues. There are a lot of Wade Peckhams out there who waste years visiting family doctors in a futile search for relief. These patients are the bane of many a GP. They aren't sick enough to die and aren't well enough to stop making appointments. Patients like Peckham frustrate MDs because their very existence is proof that physicians are anything but all-seeing and all-knowing.

But NDs like Bachewich know exactly what to look for and how to treat them. Given the fact that Wade had to shell out money to receive Bachewich's potions and pills, I'm willing to lay down some money of my own that Peckham would not have kept paying had the remedies not worked for him.

Wade Peckham got something more from Jason Bachewich; the gift of time. That's something I heard again and again from patients who see naturopaths. They love the fact that a naturopathic doctor spends much more time with them than their regular doctor does. 

I'm no expert in complementary alternative medicine. Well guess what? Neither are colleagues of mine who often oppose any attempt to give CAM practitioners more latitude to practice what they've been trained to do. 

In my opinion, that has to change. About half the provinces in Canada have licensed naturopathic doctors. Two provinces - Ontario and BC - have gone one step further, regulating the practice of naturopathic medicine itself to allow naturopathic doctors to prescribe and perform other duties more in keeping with physicians. As president of the Manitoba Naturopathic Association, Jason Bachewich is lobbying the province to regulate naturopathic medicine there.

I think that's a sensible idea. It's the best way for the public and for allied health professionals to know what naturopathic doctors can and cannot do.  It's also the best way for naturopathic doctors to hold themselves accountable for what they do.

We want to know what you think. This Monday, September 24 from 1130 a.m. to 1230 p.m. EDT join me for a live chat -- Your Body, Your Choice, in which we'll discuss naturopathy and other forms of complementary alternative medicine and get your opinion. You can sign in right here on our website.




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