By Cliff Harvey
There was a time not so long ago when practitioners in the complementary medicine area had little in the way of industry associations or higher level qualifications and therefore lacked the legitimacy that those allow.
Thankfully that has changed, at least to a large degree (excuse the pun). Now with higher standards of diplomas for clinical nutrition, degree level naturopathy courses and opportunities for post-graduate study there is no excuse for being an unqualified practitioner, because with change comes a certain level of responsibility.
As healthcare practitioners of all types we should always abide by the fundamental precept of healthcare Primum non nocere--to first do no harm.
But in order to do no harm we need to be consummate with the level of healthcare advice we provide.
This involves several areas:
1. Having a fundamental understanding of the way the body works (basic human science education)
2. Understanding how to apply your modality to influence the body positively (applied, vocational education)
3. Recognising limitations to your scope of practice (professional ethics)
4. Having an ability to research and critically analyse the quality of research (higher thought education)
5. Experience of having applied safe and effective interventions with yourself and others (practical experience)
The depth of advice that a practitioner is able to safely and effectively provide is based on the factors above.
For example a personal trainer is in my opinion perfectly qualified to give basic nutrition advice…on the other hand (and dependent upon any other qualifications they hold) they may not be qualified to give specific nutrition plans, nor provide supplementation or herbal advice, especially in the confounding presence of health conditions and medication use.
Unfortunately we have entered the era of ‘Dr Google’. Everyone claims to be a ‘researcher’, but often without the necessary skills to adequately evaluate the research (or even find it!) and come to appropriate conclusions for health care, and to provide for interventions and advice with the lowest risk for harm. In short much cited ‘research’ in the ‘blogosphere’ lacks robustness. In other words it’s shitty evidence.
With the emergence of recognised and legitimate qualifications in holistic nutrition and in natural / complementary medicine we have an opportunity to advance complementary care, in a valid, thoughtful and credible way. Unfortunately if we buy into disproven theories, modalities and dogma, because we can’t properly evaluate evidence, we will lose that opportunity and be superseded by practitioners from the mainstream who embrace those evidence based aspects of for example herbal medicine, supplementation, and progressive approaches to dietary interventions.
Quite simply as natural and complementary health care providers we need to do better.
· If you don’t have a legitimate qualification to advise safely, get one.
· If you’re not registered with your national body, do it.
· If you are practicing outside of scope, stop.
· If you think that reading blogs constitutes valid healthcare research, do a course at your local university or college to learn critical research skills.
Being evidence-based doesn't stop you from being holistic, it just makes you more effective.
It’s this simple: if you practice any form of ‘medicine’ or give healthcare advice without a fundamental understanding of these things, you’re a danger to people, and potentially you will do harm.
In the past month alone I have had three patients who have been given potentially life threatening advice by under qualified ‘practitioners’ and that is simply not OK.
Natural health practitioners…we need to do better.