• Dr. Michelle Jackson, ND

Collaborating Patient Care: 4 Tips From a Medical Doctor

When someone finds out that both of my parents are medical doctors (MDs), they look shocked and blown away. They ask, “What do your parents think about you choosing naturopathic medicine?” The misconception that this has created some sort of controversy in my family always throws me off. My parents, like myself, believe that naturopathic doctors (NDs) and MDs can (and should) work together to provide patients with the best care.

In leu of the recent article published by Huffington post (read here) showcasing successful patient management through an MD/ND collaboration, I sat down with my parents to discuss collaboration from their experience and perspective.

Below are some current challenges/obstacles for collaboration in the medical profession and tips for Naturopathic Doctors on how to overcome them. If you're not an ND or ND-to-be, use these tips to open up discussions with your healthcare providers (whatever type of practitioner they may be!)

Current Challenges for Collaboration

1. Understanding - It’s still unclear to many medical doctors what naturopathic medicine is, and how it can help their patients. In time, they may begin to see patients’ health improving when care is collaborated with an ND, but until then, a lot of what they know is based on stereotypes or extreme cases that don’t represent the profession as a whole (ie. Alberta meningitis case).

Tip #1: Schedule a lunch-and-learn with a group of medical doctors. Be concise, and provide case-specific examples of successful patient outcomes to show what we do and how we fit into the healthcare system. This will help break down their prejudices about naturopathic medicine.

Tip #2: Write a letter to the patient’s MD when you get good outcomes with a mutual patient. They’ll be happy to know that you’ve helped (patient centred-care, remember?) and they may think of you in the future for a referral when they’re not getting results for a similar condition.

2. Attitudes - This one goes both ways. NDs and MDs are both guilty of being fixed in their philosophies and not being open to the other profession’s perspective. MDs’ attitudes towards NDs is closely linked with their (potentially limited) understanding of our profession.

Tip #3: Explore your assumptions about MDs. If you have negative generalizations for medical doctors as a whole (ie. the classic one I hear often is that all doctors are ‘pill-pushers’), collaboration could be difficult for you which is only going to compromise your patients’ care.

3. Communication - This is a big one! There are times when a patient comes to their MD with a list of tests to run, as requested by their ND. It then falls onto the patient to serve as the middleman, having to explain why they’re being run in the first place. A lot of the time, patients have limited understanding as to why tests are being requested, which puts both the patient and doctor in an uncomfortable position.

Tip #4: The above scenario could be avoided by simply writing a letter to the MD with an explanation for why you’re requesting tests or blood work. It prevents the patient from acting as a middleman, maximizes the MD’s time with the patient, and it opens the possibility of the MD sharing thoughts/opinions on the case (aka generating true collaboration). This is how MDs and specialists effectively collaborate and manage patient care, and I think it’s time for NDs to follow this format as well.

As a soon-to-be practicing naturopathic doctor, I find this insight very helpful, and I hope other future NDs find it helpful as well. For patients reading this article, it's important to realize that not all MDs and NDs are on ‘opposing teams,’ and that health outcomes can be optimized when healthcare providers collaborate on your care. Start a conversation with your doctors today - after all, integrative medicine is the future of healthcare!


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