If you're looking for a more holistic approach to primary care, these descriptions may help you decide what type of doctor is best for you.
Medical doctor (M.D.)
Safe, well-researched treatments should be in your doctor's tool kit -- and that includes natural and alternative remedies and lifestyle fixes along with modern medicine and pharmaceuticals. For help in finding a holistically inclined M.D., contact the University of Arizona Program in Integrative Medicine, the American Board of Holistic Medicine, or the American Holistic Health Association.
Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.)
Osteopaths are fully licensed physicians who do everything M.D.s do -- prescribe medicine and perform surgery -- and are covered by insurance. But their training emphasizes whole-person, preventive care.
They receive special training in the musculoskeletal system and use osteopathic manipulations to diagnose and treat a range of conditions and injuries. To learn more or find an osteopath, visit academyofosteopathy.org.
Naturopathic Doctor (N.D.)
Licensed naturopaths attend four-year naturopathic medical schools, studying the same basic sciences as M.D.s but also a wide variety of natural therapies. They focus on preventive medicine and the body's innate healing capacity.
In the 14 states that have licensing laws, a growing number of insurance plans cover naturopathy (and Vermont, Connecticut, and Washington mandate it). But in many regions, naturopaths are not covered. Visit the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians for more information
Make the Most of Your Visit
Whew! You've finally found a practitioner who's a good fit. These steps will pave the way for an effective partnership between you and your doctor.
Do Your Homework: "I feel I'm most effective at addressing patients' concerns when they come prepared with a list of the questions they need answered," says Andrew Weil, M.D.
Before your appointment, take a few minutes to jot down health topics you want to discuss, as well as any questions you have, suggests Alan Schwartz, Ph.D. That way, you'll be sure to bring up the most important issues.
Even better, prioritize the list, as even the most caring holistic doctor only has so much time to spend with each patient. If you're seeing your doctor for an illness, it helps to bring a short written history of your problem (when the fever started, how long you've had pain).
Show and Tell: In order to understand and advise you on your health concerns, your doctor needs a complete picture of the medicines and supplements you take. Bring in whatever you use regularly to your visit, advises Ronald Stram, M.D., as well as information on why you're taking them. Many patients are hesitant to bring up the topic of supplements for fear the doctor won't approve -- but it's important to work with a doctor you can be honest with.
Mark It Down: Bring a pen and paper and take notes at your appointment, especially when the doctor makes suggestions about steps to improve your health.
It's not uncommon for a doctor to rattle off a laundry list of things a patient should do or change; you might think you'll remember them all, but it's easy for one to slip through the cracks -- so write them down. And don't be afraid to ask the doctor to speak more slowly so you have time to write.