Local practitioners embrace holistic medicine movement

From naturopathic treatments to hypnotherapy, a growing number of people in Southwest Washington are seeking medical treatments outside of the mainstream healthcare industry. Patient knowledge of natural therapies could be the reason and local practitioners are happy to help those seeking their services.

Holistic medicine is a natural approach to treating the person as a whole, including the body, mind, spirit and emotions.

A new approach

Dr. Sherrie Davis, clinical hypnotherapist at NW Hypnosis and Integrated Medicine in Vancouver, feels that people are drawn to holistic practitioners because they want to take a proactive, natural approach to their health and well-being without the use of drugs. Individuals who choose alternative therapies, she said, are tired of prescription drugs and are exhausted with treatments that don’t produce results.

“People are getting tired of being over-medicated and still feeling bad,” she noted.

Dr. Sheryl Wagner, naturopathic doctor for Vancouver-based Natural Choice Healthcare, echoed Davis’ belief, adding that knowledge surrounding natural medicine has drastically changed over the years.

“In general, nowadays, people who come to us have already tried several different natural over-the-counter things before they come to us, whereas before they wouldn’t know anything about natural medicine,” said Wagner. “Now people come to us because they’ve tried a lot of things themselves but what they’re doing didn’t work because they didn’t know exactly what they needed.

The knowledge about natural medicine and fervor about being healthy and having optimal health and not doing pharmaceuticals is somewhat increasing in our society,” she added.
Naturopaths and alternative therapists aren’t the only ones taking notice of a societal shift within the medical world.

Local doctor Nick Carulli wanted to adapt his clinic to what he saw as a changing environment, so he teamed up with his wife Daniela, a Certified Health Coach, to offer personalized, holistic wellness plans and physician-directed weight loss programs. The pair recently opened a new office along 192nd Avenue in Camas.

Dr. Christina Bergstrom, now at PeaceHealth Medical Group Family Medicine in Vancouver, was boarded in integrative and holistic medicine. She believes that the rise in holistic medicine has happened slowly over time, and has been compounded by the fact that doctors are more aware of alternative options that exist outside of the hospital.

“If doctors ask about it, they find out that their patients have always been using supplements or some other form of alternative medicine,” she said. “The problem is, doctors haven’t always asked. So maybe the relative uptick in perceived alternative medicine use is just that doctors are thinking to ask patients what they’re doing outside of traditional medicine.”

Insurance and regulatory changes

Whether gradual or rapid, helping to fuel growth in holistic medicine is the fact that a few insurance providers are beginning to cover specific treatments, such as chiropractic services, massage therapy, acupuncture and hypnotherapy. The extent of the coverage is still limited, however, and many treatments are paid for only on a discounted basis.

According to Davis, ChoicePlus Medicare covers 80-100 percent of hypnotherapy. Regence Blue Cross of Oregon also pays for 80 percent, covering things like chiropractic, naturopathic and hypnotherapy, which is categorized under behavioral or mental health.

Davis hoped that with healthcare reform and the Affordable Care Act, more alternative therapies would be covered, but so far she hasn’t seen much of a difference.

“80-90 percent of my patients pay with cash and most of them are uninsured,” she said. “I see that trend [continuing] with the new healthcare reforms and it’s scary because you have to wonder if they’re every going to be covered.”

Wagner also has a large number of patients that pay with cash, and she doesn’t expect that to change any time soon.

“I think now that the economy is changing, people aren’t asking for discounts as much as they used to,” she said. “Now that natural medicine is more popular, people are more willing to spend that money to come to the doctor.”

So far, noted Wagner, regulatory changes to healthcare have not had much of an impact on her business. However, one area where she has observed change is in how insurers treat certain genetic tests.

Put a lot of restrictions on tests, as far as how often you can order them or what diagnosis codes you can order them for. Insurance companies don’t want to pay for tests anymore,” she said. “Doctors should be the ones determining which tests need to be ordered, but it’s really the insurance plans that are saying ‘we’ll pay for this, or we won’t.’”

Continued growth

Despite holistic medicine’s everlasting turbulent relationship with the insurance industry, Wagner said that her client base is growing. Most of her new clients come by way of word-of-mouth, as well as relevant blog posts with optimized key words that keep her at the top of search engines. She is also on insurance panels and insurance network provider lists.

Davis said that her business is also growing, and that she gets most of her new customers through referrals from current clients, social networking sites like Facebook, ads placed on Merchant Circle and by attending Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce events. She also partners with other practitioners for services she doesn’t provide, like Vitamin C drips and chiropractic care.

“They, in turn, send clients to me,” said Davis. “I like to call it the ‘natural way network.