• Megan Little

Your Best Advocate for Care

Last week we defined the differences between allopathic (western) and naturopathic medicine. We also discussed the difference between alternative, complementary and integrative medicine. Thinking about these concepts – let’s talk about how you can approach the concept of natural or complementary medicine with your allopathic (western) primary care provider.

Before you go in and drop a bomb – (because for some providers it might feel like that) it is a good idea to know what modalities/ treatments you might like to include in your care. This starts with you researching what kind of options are available to you. Looking at our image from the NIH from last week we can break this down into nutritional, psychological, and physical.

Keeping this diagram in mind, here are some complementary and alternative practices.

Traditional Approaches

  • Acupuncture

  • Naturopathic

  • Ayurveda

  • Oriental Medicine


  • Chiropractic

  • Massage

  • Yoga

  • Craniosacral Therapy and Visceral Manipulation


  • Therapeutic Diets

  • Supplements

  • Herbal Medicine


  • Homeopathy

  • Sound, light, and magnetic therapies

  • Qi Gong

  • Reiki

This list isn’t exhaustive. I’ve been immersed in the world of natural and alternative medicine for more than 10 years and I am still learning about new therapies available as treatment options. While it would be ideal that you could have a medical provider that can do everything you are interested in, the likelihood of that is slim.

Here are some things to consider and questions to ask when bringing up complementary and alternative medicine with your primary care provider.

Your PCP won’t have training in everything. Go into your visits prepared to discuss your desires. It helps to have done research ahead of time. Most MDs get a quarter or two of nutrition and very little to no education on complementary medical practices. Although they have likely heard of some of them, they are likely not skilled at integrating them.

Many providers could be interested in helping you with this type of medicine, but they are not trained and do not have the time to learn. MDs and DOs get a lot of training on the diagnosis, management, and treatment of disease. But the tools that they use are often limited to pharmaceuticals. They often do not get the extra education in nutrition or lifestyle counseling, it is just not the way their programs are set up. Should a doctor want to learn extra modalities – say herbal medicine or homeopathy, they would need to attend an extra-curricular program to learn.

So, if they don’t have the education to help should I share that I am using XYZ to complement their treatment? YES! You should share everything with them. While they may not know all the ins and outs of herbal medicine, supplements, homeopathy, or acupuncture they need to know what you are taking/ consuming/ doing to be able to judge if it might interact with the treatments they are recommending for you. Further, keeping open communication between you and your provider opens the doors for your doctor and your complementary care provider to begin to have conversations as well. It can create a ‘team’ approach rather than an “us vs them” mentality.

As your primary care provider if they are willing to coordinate care. Does your doctor know of a complementary provider they trust already and have had success working with in the past? This is probably the best place to start. Ideally, you could receive care in an integrative setting (all under one roof) but that is not always possible. If they do not have a provider they recommend, see if they are willing to share their notes for the coordination care.

You are your best advocate for care. You should not be a passive recipient of care in your primary care provider’s office. Yes, they do have an advanced degree to help you. But, that does not mean they automatically know what will be best for you, your stage of life, your desire for treatment and interventions, and your capacity for change. You have the right to ask questions about treatments, risks, alternatives, and options. These are aspects of what we consider a PARQ (procedures, viable alternatives, risks, and questions) – or documentation of informed consent in treatment.

Health and wellness is not passive process. You have a right (and responsibility) to play an active role and make your desires known for care and treatment. Doing research, knowing your options, and having open communication with all of your providers will help to keep you safe and get you the best care possible while meeting your needs and desires.

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