Here are 10 simple tips to guide you in what to look for when choosing a health-care professional:

1. Spends enough time with you and listens

A typical initial consultation with a natural health care practitioner is anywhere from 45 minutes up to 90 minutes, but with a medical doctor may only last 6 – 10 minutes. You should have enough time to describe all your complaints, as well as being able to ask all the questions you have. Your practitioner will be (or should be!) relaxed and make you feel at ease, not keeping a constant eye on the clock or the computer. Does he or she make or take personal calls, or appear to be preoccupied with other business? Maybe you are in the wrong clinic. Do you feel that your practitioner is listening to you, or is he or she doing all the talking? Did you know that more than half of medical doctors survey in New Zealand are themselves stressed or burned out?

2. Takes a complete medical history

On your first visit, your practitioner should ask extensive questions on your medical history and take your case thoroughly. If you see a natural health care practitioner, he or she should be competent enough to at least have a greater knowledge of your disease and their treatments than yourself, the person actually presenting with the complaints. Medical doctors generally get it right here, (but we all make mistakes!) they have extensive hospital training and are trained to spot serious health problems at the onset. Does she enquire into what medications you are taking, ask for blood-test results and perhaps even check out any specialist reports you may bring with you? This shows a high regard for your current medical care, and will certainly put you more at ease right from the beginning.

3. Is professionally qualified and registered

We take it for granted with medical doctors, who generally have a high level of training. Your natural health care practitioner’s qualifications may range from a 6 week course right through to somebody with a Master’s degree and seven years of full-time university study. Don’t be afraid to ask and check out the qualifications and experience of your practitioner. Does your health care practitioner have any professional registrations? These should be displayed, along with the appropriate certificates, diplomas or degrees of qualification. Feel free to enquire where he or she qualified from, if they are professionally registered and how long they have been in practice for. You have a right, after all, you are entrusting them with your most precious asset: your health!

4. Performs a basic screen each visit

Basic health checks such as blood pressure and weight are important. It is surprising to me that some patients have never even had their blood pressure checked by their natural health practitioner, but most always by their doctor. Avoid practitioners who fail to write things down or don’t take any notes each time they see you. They should be able to grab your file in a few seconds and be very familiar with what they recommended previously. Does he or she keep neat files; is the room neat and tidy? What is their appearance like? Your sixth sense will tell you if something doesn’t quite add up.

5. Will help explain what is wrong with you, and takes the time to answer your concerns.

Your practitioner should be willing to discuss all aspects of your illness, helping you to understand what is going on, what the diagnosis means if one has been made and help to allay any fears or anxieties you may have. Be aware of instant or snap diagnoses, claims of a cure, or practitioners who ridicule or belittle other practitioners or treatments in the health care field. True health care professionals never do this.

6. Can see you in emergency situations

A good and caring practitioner will keep some time free for patients who need attention with urgent health problems. Can you call him or her two days later with a concern regarding the treatment, and have a quick word about a strong effect from something prescribed? Are you not even given two minutes on the phone to allay your concerns, and told rather to make another appointment? Do you find that he or she won’t return your call, not even after a few weeks? It may be time to look elsewhere for healthcare.

7. Keep track of all the medications you take

Your practitioner should review all medicines you are taking, including any prescribed or over the counter drugs like Panadol, herbal as well as nutritional medicines. Any conscientious practitioner will understand drug-nutrient or herb interactions and will always be on the lookout for potentially harmful interactions and ask you if you are experiencing any side-effects. Does your practitioner do this? This is a very important aspect of any health care practice. I find regularly in my practice that patients on several drugs approach me with strong symptoms, of which many are the side effects from their prescribed drugs! What a waste of time and their hard earned money when they try to counteract these drug-induced complaints with vitamins and mineral supplements.

It is prudent to remember that the fourth leading cause of death in America is from the conventional Western medical health care system and particularly from pharmaceutical drugs. (Journal of American Medical Association July 2000) Do we have any reason to believe that such similar grim statistics are any different in NZ?

8. Makes fees available, and is willing to discuss all of the charges

You should be able to obtain a list of all the charges for various procedures, appointments and tests. If there is any reluctance or confusion when you enquire about fees, this is a warning sign that your practitioner may not be right for you.

9. Arranges follow up visits periodically

Not every health problem is solved the moment you leave your practitioner’s office. A caring practitioner should like to see you periodically so that he or she can monitor your progress. Follow-up appointments are important and should be scheduled regularly until you show good improvement in your health. If you have not shown any progress in your condition after several treatments, you should be able to discuss this freely and decide with your practitioner if their treatments are really right for you. You are not obliged to “book ahead” for ten treatments and expect to pay fees upfront for treatments you have not had.

10. Is willing to work in with your medical doctor or naturopath

Most “enlightened” professional health care practitioners today embrace medical science and the healing power of nature, rather than ridicule one or the other. By willing to work in with your doctor or naturopath, your practitioner is showing you that he or she is a true health care professional, and not a “fanatical zealot”. Many professional natural therapists today have Bachelor of Health Science degrees. This is quite different from the days when diplomas were sufficient. However, you may find that your doctor could show reserve or perhaps even mock your treatments with your natural medicine health care practitioner. I like the saying: “condemnation without investigation is the highest form of arrogance”. Don’t let your doctor put you off; you decide what healthcare is right for you. You may need to find a doctor who is willing to accept your stand to embrace the healing powers of nature. The choice is ultimately yours.

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Eric Bakker is the clinical director of The Naturopaths and holds a Bachelor Degree of Science majoring in Complementary Health Care, as well as separate diploma qualifications in Naturopathy, Herbal Medicine and Homeopathy. Eric has 20 years clinical experience in natural medicine, and received post-graduate natural medicine training in Australia, India, America as well as New Zealand. Eric has four children and lives in the sunny Hawkes Bay

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