Naturopathy, or naturopathic medicine, is a holistic method for treating medical conditions, often involving natural remedies and herbal medicines. Naturopaths, bearing either the credential Naturopathic Doctor (N.D.) or Naturopathic Medical Doctor (N.M.D.), have sought greater recognition among other practitioners of the medical arts. In particular, they seek status under Medicare regulations to obtain reimbursements under that program. Recently, through enhanced funding from vitamin companies and producers of herbal medicines, naturopaths have made strides in gaining recognition. As a medical malpractice attorney handling medical negligence claims in the State of Ohio, this development raises many interesting questions.
Only 18 States currently license naturopathic doctors. Ohio does not license NDs or NMDs. An ND or NMD who describes himself/herself as a “Nutrition Counselor” or “Nutritionist” must be licensed as a dietician. Likewise, a license issued by the Ohio State Board of Dietetics is necessary to perform nutrition assessments. Other Boards who may require a license, depending on the service offered by a naturopath, include the Ohio State Board of Cosmetology and the Ohio State Board of Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy.
I read an article recently published by a naturopath that raised some concerns about naturopathy achieving greater status in the healthcare industry. The author’s concerns revolve around naturopaths’ limited training and lack of exposure to serious medical conditions, compared to the rigorous training of MDs and DOs who must undergo several years of supervised residency training. Another article, also recently published, was less hospitable, calling naturopaths “quacks” and “snake-oil salesmen” who rely on “pseudoscience.” To some extent, this criticism may be generated as a result of pushback from MD and DO groups, as well as pharmaceutical companies, who are vying for the same healthcare dollars.
So what if, as posited by one of these authors, a naturopath prescribed an herbal tincture to a client who actually has meningitis, and the client goes on to die? Does the claim arise as a “medical claim,” using Ohio’s statutory definition? If so, the claim would be subject to damages caps and evidentiary standards that apply to medical negligence claims. What standards of care would apply? Would the standards of care applicable to MDs and DOs apply to a naturopath who is practicing within their realm? If the naturopath is providing medical, dietary or therapy advice without proper licensure, would a fraud claim arise following complications of treatment? Ohio law does not currently address any of these issues.
As naturopaths and vitamin companies vie for a bigger piece of the healthcare pie, negligence claims against these practitioners will undoubtedly increase. Inevitably, questions regarding naturopaths’ liability will be resolved by Ohio courts.
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