Naturopathic doctors (N.D.s) are primary care physicians, most of whom are in general private practice. They are trained to be the doctor first seen by the patient for general healthcare, for advice on keeping healthy, and for the diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic conditions. They also serve those whose treatment by conventional means has not met their needs and who seek naturopathic care as an alternative, or as a complement, to allopathic treatment.
While N.D.s are trained to be primary care physicians, some N.D.s choose to emphasize particular treatment methods (see below) and others may concentrate on particular medical fields such as pediatrics, gynecology, allergies, arthritis, etc. Even though it has its own therapeutic specialties, naturopathic medicine also incorporates the natural therapies of many different healing traditions. What makes a therapy part of the naturopathic scope of practice is the way it is applied, i.e., on the basis of the six naturopathic principles of healing. The current scope of naturopathic practice includes, but is not limited to:
- Clinical Nutrition: That food is the best medicine is a cornerstone of naturopathic practice. Many medical conditions can be treated more effectively with foods and nutritional supplements than they can by other means, with fewer complications and side effects. N.D.s use diet, natural hygiene, fasting, and nutritional supplementation in their practice.
- Physical Medicine: Naturopathic medicine has its own methods of therapeutic manipulation of muscles, bones, and spine. N.D.s also use ultrasound, diathermy, exercise, massage, water, heat and cold, and gentle electrical therapies.
- Homeopathic Medicine:Homeopathic medicine is based on the principle of "like cures like." Clinical observation indicates that it works on a subtle, yet powerful, energetic level, gently acting to strengthen the body's healing and immune response and triggering a healing process.
- Botanical Medicine: Many plant substances are powerful medicines. Where single chemically-derived drugs may address only a single problem, botanical medicines are able to address a variety of problems simultaneously. Their organic nature makes most botanicals compatible with the body's own chemistry; hence, they can be gently effective with few toxic side effects.
- Naturopathic Obstetrics: Naturopathic physicians provide natural childbirth care in an out-of-hospital setting. They offer prenatal and postnatal care using modern diagnostic techniques. The naturopathic approach strengthens healthy body functions so that complications associated with pregnancy may be prevented.
- Oriental Medicine: Oriental medicine is a healing philosophy that is complementary to naturopathic medicine. Meridian theory offers an important understanding of the unity of the body and mind and adds to the Western understanding of physiology. Acupuncture provides a method of treatment that can unify and harmonize the imbalances present in disease conditions, which in turn stimulates the immune system and the healing response.
- Psychological Medicine: Mental attitudes and emotional states may influence, or even cause, physical illness. Counseling, nutritional balancing, stress management, hypnotherapy, biofeedback and other therapies are used to help patients heal psychologically.
- Minor Surgery: As primary care physicians, N.D.s do in-office minor surgery including repair of superficial wounds and removal of foreign bodies, cysts and other superficial lesions.
Naturopathic practice also includes the use of any medical substances that contain elements that are components of bodily tissues or can be employed by the body for the maintenance of life and the repair of tissues as well as all methods of diagnostic testing and imaging, including X-ray and ultrasound. The current scope of practice excludes major surgery and the use of many synthetic drugs.
"Scope of practice" is defined specifically by the practice acts in the various states and provinces that license or regulate naturopathic medicine, and practice varies significantly among states, provinces and countries.
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