Ask the Doctor – September 2007

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Dear Dr. Rona:

I really do not understand the difference between a naturopath and a holistic doctor.  They seem to prescribe the same kinds of things.  I know that the services of a holistic MD in Ontario and most other provinces are covered partially by Medicare (e.g. OHIP) while the services of a naturopath are not covered at all.  More absurd is the fact that some private insurance plans cover naturopaths but not holistic MDs.  Why is this?


Dear O.S.:

In most cases, there is very little difference between a naturopath and a holistic doctor. Canadian MDs can basically practice naturopathic medicine but have a medical license.  Their licensing boards (Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons) seemingly tolerate it and term it “Complementary Medicine”.   In other words, holistic doctors basically do naturopathic medicine using a medical license.  It’s more of a political than scientific distinction because the boundaries between the two licenses are blurred in anyone’s estimation.

For example, some naturopaths provide as part of their services intravenous vitamins and minerals as well as EDTA IV chelation therapy.  So do some MDs.  MDs can prescribe vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids and homeopathic remedies.  So do most naturopaths.  Some MDs do acupuncture and spinal manual therapy.  So do some naturopaths.  Some MDs use electro dermal testing and laser acupuncture.  So do some naturopaths.  In fact there is not a single modality of treatment that is unique to naturopaths that is not also provided for by holistic MDs.  Only the label of the practitioner is different.  Some will argue that there is a vast difference in ideological approaches between the two disciplines but the bottom line for the patient is that they receive virtually identical treatments from either type of practitioner.

The only legal difference between the two disciplines is the fact that MDs also prescribe drugs and can do surgery.  Holistic MDs are knowledgeable in both the conventional and complementary medical approaches. Naturopaths do not prescribe drugs nor do surgery and their training is much more detailed and focused on non-drug, non-surgical interventions.  Hope this helps.

Zoltan Rona, M.D., M.Sc.
1366 Yonge St. Suite 201
Toronto, ON
M4T 3A7

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