HEALTH: Naturopathy — Underground medicine no more |

HEALTH: Naturopathy — Underground medicine no more

Christoper Lepisto, N.D.
Free Press Health Columnist

Your options for affordable and effective natural health care are about to improve in the state of Colorado. With fewer and fewer medical doctors choosing primary care, the passage of this June’s regulation of naturopathic doctors (N.D.s) is particularly important because now our state finally recognizes another way of helping close the primary care gap.

Despite President Obama highlighting Grand Junction as a model of health care, it is still difficult in the Grand Valley to find a primary care physician (M.D. or D.O.). My colleague and classmate from Bastyr University in Seattle, Wash., Steve Parcell, N.D., wrote the following article to help you understand what the new law will bring, and how it can benefit your family when it goes into effect in 2014.

It increases access to naturopathic medicine for patients, helps protect you from unscrupulous practitioners, and makes it more likely for N.D.s to come to the state (and the Grand Valley). As I worked on previous efforts at legislation, I am particularly pleased at what our state legislative body has done for you.

In June, our governor signed HB 13-1111 concerning the regulation of naturopathic doctors, allowing them to run tests, diagnose and treat patients legally. The Colorado Association of Naturopathic Doctors (CoAND) had been working towards regulation of naturopathic doctors since submitting its first sunrise application in 1992.

These regulations set standards of education and training for naturopathic doctors practicing naturopathic medicine in Colorado. Doing so will make quality naturopathic health care more available while at the same time protect the public from doctors not competent to practice. Naturopathic doctors will be required to have malpractice insurance and will be subject to peer review regarding complaints similar to the system in place for other health care providers.

Despite cases of harm, the State of Colorado previously did not regulate naturopathic medicine. As a result of this lack of regulation, there were no standards imposed upon individuals who use the titles naturopath, naturopathic doctor, naturopathic physician or naturopathic medical doctor; meaning anyone could use any of these titles in Colorado, regardless of their level of training.

This is good news for Colorado, allowing better coordination of care within the health care system. A greater emphasis on preventive medicine with consequent health care dollar savings will result. In the City of Boulder, there are 16 NDs who are members of the CoAND. There are many more naturopathic doctors on the Front Range. Not all naturopathic doctors must be members but they will all have to meet state regulation requirements (be a graduate of a U.S. Board of Education accredited naturopathic medical school and have passed the national board exams).

The training of an ND is similar to that of a family doctor (Bachelor’s degree, then four years of medical school and board exams). There is currently no medical insurance coverage in Colorado for visits to an N.D. but that may change with increased demand.

The practice of naturopathic medicine combines centuries-old, natural, non-toxic therapies with current advances in medicine, covering all aspect of health, from prenatal to geriatric care. Naturopathic medicine tailors treatment to an individual patient by looking for the underlying cause of the condition, rather than focusing solely on symptomatic treatment. N.D.s also emphasize prevention and self-care to ensure recovery and prevent recurrences.

Training includes all aspects of diagnosis using blood work, imaging and physical exam. Naturopathic training differs for conventional medical school in the following ways: (much) more time studying nutrition, manipulation, physical medicine, botanical medicine, homeopathy, nutritional supplements and less time in pharmacology. Additionally, electives can be taken in Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, sports medicine, advanced botanical medicine, etc. N.D.s are experts in complementary and alternative medicine.

Training in anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, histology, laboratory medicine, microbiology, pathology, physical and clinical diagnosis and radiology is virtually the same as conventional medical school.

Adding N.D.s to the ranks of health care providers will help Colorado with its primary care doctor shortage. According to Steve Holloway, director of the Office of Primary Care of the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, back in 2011 Colorado had a shortfall of 194 primary care doctors. The Colorado Health Institute states: “If current trends continue, by 2025 there will be a statewide shortage of nearly 2,200 primary care providers.” Colorado Public News stated that there aren’t enough graduating primary care physicians to replace the family doctors about to retire. The average age of a primary care physician in Colorado is 55. Many of them will be hanging up their stethoscopes in as little as 10 years.

The shortage is expected to worsen in 2014 when the federal health care law is due to add 32 million people to health insurance. Many of these patients will have existing health conditions that have not been treated properly requiring more time from primary care doctors and adding the shortage. So, it was smart to pass this bill.

For more information on naturopathic medicine go to

Parcell is co-owner of NatureMed Integrative Medicine in Boulder. Parcell’s column previously ran in the Boulder Daily Camera.

Lepisto, the only practicing N.D. in Mesa County, can be reached at or call 970-250-4104.

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