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5 steps to choosing a family health care provider

5 steps to choosing a family health care provider

From traditional pediatricians to naturopaths, there are many options to consider when deciding on a health care provider for your family. Here are 5 steps to help you choose.

By Lesley Young

When it comes to deciding on a health care provider for your family, there are more options than ever. Traditional pediatricians, naturopaths, integrative practitioners… the list goes on. So how do you decide what’s right for your family? Here are 5 questions to ask yourself as you evaluate the options.

1. “What is the right medical philosophy for my family?”

Many families are happy with a traditional pediatrician – but there are several alternatives to primary care family physicians licensed to practice medicine in America. All three of the following practitioners are able to diagnose and treat in a primary care capacity, but they bring something different to their practice. Here’s how they differ.

Osteopathic Doctors/Pediatricians

In addition to traditional pediatric medical training, ODs receive special training in the musculoskeletal system and how it impacts the health of all other body systems. They apply osteopathic manipulation to correct structural problems. Learn more: American Osteopathic Association

Integrative Doctors/Pediatricians

These are traditionally trained physicians or specialists who apply a variety of different complementary medicines such as naturopathy and/or osteopathy, depending on their areas of interest. Learn more: American Association of Integrative Medicine

Naturopathic Doctors

Naturopathic Doctors go to school for eight years – the same length of time as a family physician – before they practice. NDs apply different modalities to help the body’s inherent ability to restore and maintain optimal health, including nutritional medicine, botanical medicine, homeopathy, acupuncture, prescription medication and many more. Learn more: The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians

2. How reputable is this health practitioner?”

Be sure to check with the practice association’s website to ensure the practitioner you are interested in is licensed. If you are looking at an integrated physician, look for accreditation in the complementary medicine fields from the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine as well.

How much conventional Western medicine Integrated Physicians apply differs by individual, says Dr. Mary Anne Morelli Haskell, an Integrative Pediatrician, based in Coronado, California.

Naturopathic Doctors are currently only licensed in in 17 states, where they must graduate from an accredited four-year residential naturopathic medical school and pass an exam to have a license – just like ODs and MDs. Their scope of practice includes traditional medical exams, ordering prescription drugs and blood work, with some state exceptions, says JoAnn Yanez, ND and Executive Director of the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges. “We are trained to know when to refer,” she adds.

In non-licensed states, reputable NDs will maintain licensing qualifications, adds Yanez. “But definitely be aware that some people will take short online courses and call themselves a Naturopathic Doctor in non-licensed states.” If you are in a non-licensed state, get a recommendation from the local naturopathic association, she says.

3. “Will my insurance cover this visit?”

As always, the best advice is to check first. Coverage by practitioner varies dramatically and in some cases, insurance plans may require you to go to a list of approved family health practitioners.

4. “How can I be sure we’re on the same page with important health concerns?”

This is probably the most important consideration when deciding between qualified health care practitioners. Fortunately, most doctor offices will book short, free introductory interviews, giving you a chance to meet in-person and tour the facilities, says Dr. Morelli Haskell. Be sure to ask the health practitioner his or her views on the things that matter to you, for example antibiotics, immunizations, and where they stand on alternative treatments.

5. “What if I’m not sure?”

Trust your gut. Nothing compares to a parent’s intuition. Worst case scenario, you can test out a new practitioner and switch again if things don’t work out. There’s also no saying you have to choose just one practitioner. As Integrative Pediatrician Dr. Morelli Haskell says, she and a pediatrician around the corner often share patients. “I’ll refer to her and often she refers patients to me.” After all, the best kind of medicine is the collaborative kind.

The most important factor in selecting healthcare solutions for your child is that you are comfortable with their approach and trust them as individuals. Whether a traditional pediatrician, naturopath or osteopath, they are one of the most important partners you will have in taking care of your child’s health.

Lesley Young is an award-wining health journalist and former Health Editor of Canada’s leading women’s magazine, Chatelaine. She specializes in family health and nutrition.

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