There has been increasing public focus on the shortage of physicians to meet the health needs of the residents of British Columbia. By now, it is clear it’s not feasible to expect to hire enough medical doctors to meet demand. Moreover, there may be more realistic and more efficient ways to allocate resources that are already available. Health Minster Terry Lake has elaborated on this point by explaining that not every problem requires a medical doctor and many issues can be addressed by a “primary care team”. Naturopathic doctors can play an integral role in such a model of care.
Licensed naturopathic doctors in British Columbia are highly-trained medical professionals. While the profession has been regulated since 1923, in 2009 the B.C. Ministry of Health approved a new set of regulations which recognizes naturopathic doctors as primary health-care providers. The new regulations bestow on naturopathic doctors sweeping changes to their authority with respect to compounding, prescription authority, dispensing, ordering of laboratory and diagnostic services, and other privileges. This enables naturopathic doctors in British Columbia to have the widest scope of practice in Canada. For nearly a decade, patients have been able to choose an ND for primary care—already reducing the burden on the medical system.
Many British Columbians chose to see naturopathic doctors because they enjoy the personalized care that they receive and alternative treatment options to conventional drugs or surgery. Because NDs mainly practice in private clinics where their services are not publicly-funded, these patients enjoy their preferred method of health care without requiring taxpayer dollars. Also, treatment plans emphasize preventative health and optimal wellness which further reduces the frequency of visits to the medical doctor or hospital.
While the government has recognized naturopathic doctors as primary health care providers, there are still some remaining obstacles that prevent NDs from being an even greater part of the solution to the doctors shortage. Of these, the two most significant are that naturopathic doctors are not permitted universal access to tests run at diagnostic facilities (a commitment made by Health Minister George Abbott 10 years ago and stated in the government’s 2008 Throne Speech) and access to information in PharmaNet.
BCNA has outlined the diverse and extensive primary care on offer, province wide, in a detailed report to government titled Supporting a Sustainable Health System. A highlight of which is the collaborative, interdisciplinary support NDs bring to the provincial health care system, but which government has failed to capitalize on.
This post by BCNA Co-President, Dr. Victor Chan