November 5, 2010 (7:24 pm)

Kamea’s Two Doctors: Allopathic Doctor vs Naturopathic Doctor

topics: Kamea
by Kristen Suzanne

Just before Kamea’s 4-month birthday, we took her for a wellness visit with her Naturopathic Doctor (read about it here). Until now, she has been seeing an NMD (naturopathic medical doctor) exclusively. We’ve been extremely happy with him and look forward to having him be Kamea’s primary doctor. In fact, in addition to being a pediatrician, he’s a family doctor so he’s my doctor, too. Whenever I have questions or issues with my own health, this doctor knows I’m breastfeeding and is familiar with my family so it makes treating me more convenient and, in my opinion, a bit safer. For instance, he’s more likely to take into consideration my breastfeeding Kamea when he’s treating me with medicine or herbs, if the need should arise.

However, Kamea also sees an allopathic doctor (i.e., a “regular” doctor).  She had her first visit with him last week. We used the “4-month well checkup visit” as our first experience with him, officially establishing her as his patient in the event that we need him in the future.

Why two doctors? First, in the event of an emergency, NMDs in our area do not have what are called “hospital privileges.” If Kamea ever needs to go to the hospital, we would not want her physician to be whoever happened to be on duty at the time. It’s much better to establish a relationship and client history before any such emergency.

Second, I like the idea of having access to both an NMD and an allopathic medical doctor. I think they both have great value and I like being able to tap into the knowledge and experience of either, or both, depending on the situation. Second opinions can be very important. By combining perspectives from both an NMD and allopathic doctor, we increase our options and dampen the effects of either doctor’s inherent biases. And when they both say the exact same thing (which has already happened), it’s extra reassuring. This allows us to focus our attention on those issues where the two doctors’ perspectives or recommendations are different.

So, you may be wondering, will these two guys “play nice”?

After some research, we were fortunate to find an allopathic MD who is actually open-minded about naturopathic alternatives… the office where his practice resides even includes one! (Their naturopath is technically not part of the practice; they merely share facilities… but still, that speaks volumes.)

Kamea’s MD is non-pressuring, open to unconventional/non-mainstream ideas, and — most importantly — a great doctor. He is highly respected, even recognized by a major local publication as one of the best pediatricians for 2010 in the Phoenix metro area. I’ve always felt that the very best practitioners of any profession are those who really know their stuff, but also never feel like there isn’t a lot more to learn. Humility, they say, is to remain teachable.

I was excited to meet him. I was also very curious to compare the two visits (naturopathic vs. allopathic) since they were both for the same reason: the 4-month check-up.

The visits were very similar. They both weighed her, measured her length and head, checked her ears and heart beat, lungs, etc. The NMD checked her eyes, the allopath did not. They both asked some developmental questions, but the NMD asked more. They both briefly discussed the topic of Kamea eating solids in the future (again, more detail was given from the NMD). Aside from these, the main difference was the amount of total time Kamea spent with each doctor. The NMD, who has a very small practice, had no assistant and did everything himself, whereas a nurse took Kamea’s measurement at the MD’s office. While I don’t fault this, I liked that this meant our NMD saw Kamea longer. So much about practicing good preventative medicine is about observation. More time means more minutes to observe, perhaps noticing something minor that would have otherwise escaped a more hurried doctor’s attention.

Our NMD also gave us Kamea’s percentile stats based on her numbers. We didn’t get those at the allopathic doctor’s office, but I’m sure he would have if we had asked. On subtle points like this — again, all requiring more time for the visit — I have to give props to the NMD. As a new parent, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” I won’t always know what to ask, so it’s helpful when the professional offers additional information without my needing to ask for it.

There were other important differences: For starters, our NMD’s office is physically very different than the allopathic doctor’s office. The NMD has a one-room office in a non-medical office building… it’s a little odd, but not a big deal. The waiting room is the actual lobby that the whole building would use, whether you’re there to see the doctor, the financial advisor, or the real estate developer. (It’s actually a very nice, high-end office building.) I suspect his office is the only “medical” tenant in the building. It’s just a normal office building with executive suites and a shared receptionist… no nurses, no rows of color-tabbed filing cabinets with patient records. No kid waiting area with tiny kid-sized chairs or giraffes painted on the wall. :( This arrangement presumably is not an NMD thing; it likely has more to do with our NMD being relatively young, newly established, and independent as opposed to part of a practice that can share an office and administrative resources.

One interesting side note: At one of our earlier visits to the NMD, the office building had just installed new carpet without his prior approval. The “new carpet smell” fumes were awful and our NMD was horribly embarrassed, apologizing profusely, and doing everything he could to air out his office. I think he would have handed out respirator masks if he’d had any. It was kind of cute… it’s hard to imagine a mainstream MD being so concerned about chemical off-gassing!

Going to a one-room doctor’s office was kind of weird at first, but I’m used to it now. And, quite honestly, kind of prefer it now. Maybe it’s just cognitive dissonance, but I’ve come to equate it with an old-fashioned country doctor, the kind who used to make house calls and accept jars of strawberry preserves as payment.

Okay, Laura Ingalls Wilder stuff aside, there’s a very real benefit to this: No germy kids. Our NMD has no “well kids” or “sick kids” waiting areas (more on this in a moment) because he has… no kids waiting area, period. You might think this is a negative, except that we’ve never seen another patient there in all our visits. He has scheduled his patients spaced out with no crossovers in time, which brings me to my next point… there is virtually no wait for the NMD. The allopathic doctor on the other hand… we waited in the waiting area for a good 15 minutes and then once the assistant/nurse took Kamea’s weight and measurements, there was another wait of about a half hour. Not really fun with an infant in a small examination room, 2 adults, stroller, car seat, etc.

Trying to entertain Kamea during the wait for her doctor.

The allopathic doctor’s office had a waiting room with two areas: Well children and Sick children. I had heard of these before and often wondered how they looked. I wasn’t impressed. The waiting room is basically one whole room, with a semi-partition dividing the two. I didn’t expect a pressure-sealed airlock between them or anything (okay, that would’ve been cool), but the lame-ass “divider tree” pictured below just seemed, in my paranoid mommy brain, to be teeming with whooping cough-infested boogers.

The glass partition is from the tree and left to the wall. The right side was open between the two areas.

It was really stupid. Despite this reassuring sign on the door before entering…

… what you see on the other side of these allegedly quarantining doors is… basically a shared waiting room. Oh yay. Different doors. I’m sure the germs will follow the rules and stay on the left.

Really. I saw a sick child go from the sick side to the well side to touch the toys on the well side before his mom came and got him. The partition is a good intention, but fairly useless. And, who knows how often they clean those toys? Did you know that Canadian doctor offices don’t have magazines? Too many germs. (Update: Apparently the “Canadian magazine” thing isn’t true according to some of my readers. Darn. I thought that was so cool. Any other Canadians experience this?) I’m actually not a germ-o-phobe, but I draw the line at doctor offices especially when it comes to my baby being in close proximity to a place that’s raison d’etre is to service hundreds of sick kids.

But, I will say that the decor of the waiting room is awesome. Jungle theme with a television playing Shrek. Sa-weet! ;) We opted to wait out in the hall actually where I walked around with my little bundle of joy in our ERGO organic carrier.

Overall, I really enjoyed the visit with the allopathic doctor. He was nice, funny, and very enjoyable. He answered our questions and didn’t give us any shit about being vegan. :) In the end, I’m so glad that I have access to both kinds of doctors. Both doctors know we’re seeing both doctors and they seem fine with that. They offer different treatments and perspectives and it’s nice to have the choice. I’m learning a lot that way, too.

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  • Lauren519

    Thanks for the great comparison. We have a Pediatric doctor as of right now, but I do have a osteopath who treats children on hand if we need him. My mother in law has been seeing him for years, so we are confident with him. He also treated my crohn's in the past and treats children with autism with hyperbaric oxygen and diet. He also gave my mother in law a vaccine book for me! So we will be seeing him down the road! :) Loving Kamea in the Ergo, so cute!!!!

  • Eve

    Unless I've simply missed out on those fabled Canadian magazine-free doctor's offices, I'm afraid our offices are full of the same gross and grubby magazines as your offices in the US! :) Kamea is adorable!

  • Tweal

    Great article, having 2 opinions is definitely a good thing and it's nice that you found 2 Dr's who can respect each other, and you.

    I have magazines at my Dr. office and I am in Canada…..but they are probably pretty germy.

  • Kristen Suzanne

    Lol must not be true. And here I thought that was so cool!

  • Tricia Swenson

    Thanks for writing a comparison. I had no idea that taking a baby to a naturopath physician was even an option. Well, I just hadn't thought of it before. So I think this is great! We just moved and so we have not gotten a new doc for my son yet. I'll have to look into the naturopath option.

  • bitt

    Love the comparison! I have been to both kinds in my own experience and it really varies doctor to doctor. I've actually had more support on my vegan diet from the allopathic doctors than the NDs. I think if I had a kid I would try both too, or perhaps a doctor who had both degrees.

  • Kat

    How do you find a NP for your family? Does it cost much more than an allopath, since it's probably not covered by insurance? I'm interested in pursuing alternative medicine as an option but I have no idea where to start — we have some good chiropractic options, but that's about it.

    I agree that the experience probably varies from doctor to doctor. I have had experiences with several different pediatricians, and their demeanor and support can vary so greatly. I like that our current office does not have any toys. We aren't completely insulated from germs, but it feels so much safer to just bring our own!

    Glad to see the Ergo is working out for you! Hope Kamea is enjoying it.

  • Kristen Suzanne

    Depends on the insurance.

    I paid an initial fee for the first visit and after that, it costs less. Still, an office visit at the NMD costs more than double what I pay for the copay of the MD. However, compared to other parts of the country, my NMD costs a lot less I've heard.

  • Jlhoucek

    Did your NMD recommend you give Kamea a Vitamin D supplement since you are exclusively breastfeeding? If so, which brand are you using?

  • Kristen Suzanne

    It's a possibility for when she turns 6 months or later. We will discuss it then. But I'm reading The Vitamin D Solution and I'm getting plenty of sunshine and supplementing extra myself so it's in my breastmilk for her. That being said, Kamea gets a little time in the sun, too, so odds are we won't have to give her a supplement.

  • Sara

    Hi Kristen, loved the comparison. It do think it depends so much on the individual doctor, mine is so great I am sticking with traditional (and all costs are covered for me). and every Dr. office I have been to in Canada has magazines and toys. I have never seen the separate areas and actually I get grief every time I wipe my baby's hands. I get comments about how I am preventing development of her immune system. locally there seems to be a big thing that germs are good. i don't bother to clarify why I do what i do (maybe she is already sick and she does have allergies so I don't want her chewing on a toy that some other kid may have deposited Peanut butter on!) I don't get grief for being vegan but I do notice a general lack of knowledge about veganism in the general medical system. the lack of knowledge seems to make Doctors wary and unlikely to endorse. love your blogs!

  • Kristen Suzanne

    Thanks for sharing. :) great stuff.

  • Natalie

    Interesting post. I don't have kids (yet?) but it never crossed my mind to have both doctors. Food for thought :-)

  • Kristen McNabb

    Great post. As I was reading the part about the lobby “waiting room”, I was thinking “Ohhh that's so awesome to not have to worry about the germy waiting room” As a mom to a 3 year old and a 6 month old, I would LOVE that!! When we were taking our little one into the Dr. the first few months (they won't see us anymore because we won't vaccinate) I would keep my 3 year old strapped in her stroller so she wouldn't be lured in by the very fun looking waiting room! And BTW, the pic of you guys on CSL is FABULOUS!! She is such a doll baby!

  • Kristen Suzanne

    Thank you so much. :)

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Kristen Suzanne is a Raw food chef and author who blogs about all things green and mommy-related! More...

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