New Pa. law would have naturopaths be registered
Amid growing interest in natural remedies, a new Pennsylvania law aims to protect people from untrained alternative healers by creating a registry of naturopathic doctors who have completed accredited training programs.
Gov. Tom Wolf signed legislation last week creating the law, which goes into effect in January 2018. The law outlines qualifications to register as a naturopathic doctor and makes it illegal for people to advertise themselves as one if they are not registered.
“Before this bill passed, anybody in the state with very little training could call themselves or advertise themselves as a naturopathic doctor,” said Heidi Weinhold, a naturopathic doctor who is the legislative chairwoman for the Pennsylvania Association of Naturopathic Physicians. “It was dangerous.”
Many who call themselves naturopathic doctors complete only a six-week online course before telling people what supplements to take and what “toxins” to avoid, Weinhold said.
The law requires naturopathic doctors to have completed a program with at least 4,100 credit hours and to have passed a licensing exam. There are a handful of graduate schools in the United States with four-year programs accredited by the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education, which is recognized as an accrediting agency by the U.S. Department of Education, according to a letter from the council’s director.
Supporters called the law a good “first step” toward helping patients access the services of naturopaths, who are increasingly working in conjunction with medical doctors to help patients manage diet and lifestyle to complement conventional treatments.
Pennsylvania becomes the 18th state, plus Washington, D.C., to regulate naturopathic doctors, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges. Some state laws go further than Pennsylvania’s by requiring insurers to cover a naturopathic doctor’s services, said JoAnn Yanez, the association’s director.
The law also stops short of licensing naturopathic doctors, which adds more rigorous oversight than registration, Yanez said. Still, she said, the law will help.
“At the end of the day, licensure and registration both boil down to public protection,” she said.
UPMC Shadyside and the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Philadelphia are among hospitals that employ naturopaths, according to a memo from Rep. Mark Mustio, R-Moon Township, the legislation’s sponsor.
“Basically any health problem, they can help with” by recommending diet and lifestyle changes, said Dr. Ronald Glick, medical director of the Shadyside hospital’s Center for Integrative Medicine. The center often schedules visits with naturopaths for people who call asking about alternative remedies, Glick said.
Marie Winter, a naturopathic doctor at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Philadelphia, said she more often tells patients to reduce the supplements they’re taking than to take more. To the disappointment of some patients, she offers no miracle cures, she said, but tells them that correctly using supplements can help people manage the side effects of cancer treatments such as chemotherapy.
Winter said the law, after a 16-year push by advocates to get it passed, will make it easier for native Pennsylvanians who have completed graduate naturopathy programs elsewhere to return to their home state to practice. She estimates about 50 naturopathic doctors with graduate degrees are now practicing in the state.
The Pennsylvania Medical Society supported the legislation, spokesman Chuck Moran said, because it provides patient safety measures with oversight from the state boards of medicine and osteopathic medicine.
Weinhold said she charges $150 for an initial consultation, which usually takes about an hour and a half, and $85 for follow-up visits, which usually last about a half-hour. She said she thinks her rates are about average for the state.
In the future, she said, she would like to see the law expanded to require naturopathic doctors to have medical malpractice insurance, take continuing education courses and have the ability to order lab work and medical imaging.
She said she thinks broader changes in medicine could lead to a bigger role for naturopathy.
“Things are changing, and the focus is on preventative care, and that’s what naturopathic medicine is,” she said.
Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676 or [email protected].