The six principles of naturopathic medicine serve as guidelines and reminders for a naturopathic physician’s approach to medical practice and patient care. The word “doctor” is actually derived from the Latin word “Docere,” which means “to teach,” and one of the most powerful tenets used to form a therapeutic relationship is the principle of “Docere,” or doctor as teacher.
A key issue that often arises between patients and doctors is an assumption that the patient is a passive recipient of whatever treatment their healthcare provider prescribes. Many have had the experience of visiting the doctor, where they write a prescription or make a recommendation without including the patient in the conversation. The expectation is to do as you are told, no questions asked. In fact, patients have even been “fired” for noncompliance because they did not understand or agree with the treatment plan.
Conversely, this way of practicing can also take the onus for health and healing off of the client and onto the physician, and in some cases, doctors can be reprimanded if their patients do not improve (of course, we are not talking about medical errors or irresponsible patient management, which are separate issues).1 Thankfully, a newer mindset within the medical community is that when patients take responsibility for their own well-being, while partnering with their doctors through communication and education, they experience better health outcomes. It is encouraging that more providers are seeing the value in this approach, however licensed naturopathic physicians have always practiced this way. The “Doctor as Teacher” approach serves to educate patients about their health and treatment options, while empowering them to take control of their own healing journey.
Why is the ND appointment so long?
This is a question many patients have when they schedule their first naturopathic medicine consult. It is not uncommon for the first visit to last 90 minutes to two hours, with follow-ups lasting for up to an hour. Consider that the average primary care visit in a conventional setting is only about 16 minutes, with approximately five of that as time spent by the patient speaking.2
NDs seek to fully understand their patients’ medical history, social support, current diet and lifestyle concerns, mental and emotional issues, and of course, dive deeply into the primary reason for the visit – that all requires time, which lengthens the visit. In fully understanding where a patient is coming from and the direction they would like to go regarding their health, the ND can devise a treatment plan that is personalized and adaptive to patient needs.
Education is key
The naturopathic doctor has ample opportunity to teach the patient about their body, how it functions, and tools they can implement for lifelong health and wellness. For example, if a patient comes in with a complaint of insomnia, rather than just prescribing a sleep remedy, an ND will explore the root cause of the issue, and if applicable, explain to the patient how sleep cycles work, including a routine that is conducive to sleeping. Some recommendations may include keeping a cool and dark bedroom, avoiding electronics before bed, and food, lifestyle modifications and supplements that support sound and complete rest. The more patients know and understand their health, the more compliant they are likely to be with their treatment plan. 3
With so much information on the internet, people are inundated and often overwhelmed by choices and may not understand the rationale behind the recommendations. The more a patient knows about health, the better equipped they are to make informed decisions about their day-to-day lives. Naturopathic doctors are specifically trained to help their clients through the maze of information about natural health care options and educate them about treatments that are appropriate (or not) and what will work best for them!