Naturopathic Medicine Lowers Health Care Costs

Information courtesy the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians

Numerous studies have demonstrated that using non-invasive, non-toxic approaches lowers health care costs. (1,2) Patients with the greatest disease burden show the most significant reduction in total medical expenditures when utilizing integrative medicine.(3) Fifty-five percent of patients reported a slight to substantial reduction of their use of conventional medical care once they begin visiting an integrative medicine provider.(4) A systematic review of randomized clinical trials found that use of natural health products has the potential to reduce costs compared to conventional treatment by up to 73% (5).

Naturopathic approaches to reducing cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as hypertension and high cholesterol, and symptoms of menopause save money.(6,7) Many studies have also documented cost savings resulting from use of naturopathic physicians to reduce pain, especially back pain.(7,8,9)

Naturopathic Medicine Decreases Prescription Drug Costs

Many studies have found that naturopathic care results in substantially lower prescription drug costs than conventional care. Naturopathic physicians typically prescribe botanical or nutritional supplements to effectively care for medical problems rather than expensive prescription drugs. Patients who received intensive lifestyle modification and naturopathic therapy in just one year for type II diabetes improved all health scores (lipid levels, body fat percentage, etc.) and decreased medication requirements compared to those on standard therapy.(10) Integrative medicine users in two studies reported significantly lower prescription drug use of 48% and 61%, respectively.(4,11)

Naturopathic Physicians Offer True Disease Prevention, Thus Reducing Expensive Ongoing Care

By addressing the causes of disease, naturopathic physicians reduce the need for repeated, expensive and often ineffective symptomatic treatment. A study published in JAMA found that patients of integrative medicine providers were significantly more likely to have obtained common preventive services, including pap smears, cholesterol testing, influenza immunizations, and breast exams.(12)

A recent study found that patients receiving one year of care under the supervision of a naturopathic doctor experienced a 3.1% reduction in 10-year CVD event risk compared to patients receiving conventional care. They were also 16.9% less likely to have developed metabolic syndrome.(13) This resulted in significant savings to society of $1,138 per patient and to employers of $1,167.(14)

Naturopathic Physicians Reduce Insurance Costs

Studies of insurance costs provide strong evidence that including naturopathic physicians saves money. One study of special note demonstrates that the majority of patient visits to naturopathic physicians are in lieu of – not in addition to – conventional medical care.(15) Studies have found that per visit expenditures to integrative medicine providers cost only 52% as much as for conventional outpatient care(16) and that annual health care expenditures for insured integrative medicine users in Washington State were $356 less than for non-integrative medicine users.(7) An internal Blue Shield study in King County, WA estimated that a naturopathic-centered managed care program could cut the costs of chronic and stress related illness by up to 40% and lower costs of specialist utilization by 30%.(17)

1 Herman PM, Poindexter BL, Witt CM et al. Are complementary therapies and integrative care cost-effective? A systematic review of economic evaluations. BMJ Open. 2012;2:e001046. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2012-001046.
2 Tais S, Oberg E. The economic evaluation of complementary and alternative medicine. Natural Med J. 2013;5(2).
3 Sarnat RL, Winterstein J, Cambron JA. Clinical utilization and cost outcomes from an integrative medicine independent physician association: an additional 3- year update. J Manipulative Physiol Therapeutics 2007; 30(4): 263-269.
4 Stewart D, Weeks J, Bent S. Utilization, patient satisfaction, and cost implications of acupuncture, massage, and naturopathic medicine offered as covered health benefits: a comparison of two delivery models. Altern Therapies. Jul-Aug 2001;7(4):66-70.
5 Kennedy DA, Hart J, Seely D. Cost effectiveness of natural health products: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials. eCAM 2009; 6(3) 297-304. 6 Seely D, Herman P. Presented at 2010 AANP Conference. Naturopathic treatment for the prevention of cardiovascular disease: a whole system randomized pragmatic trial. Unpublished.
7 Lind BK, Lafferty WE, Tyree PT, Diehr PK. Comparison of health care expenditures among insured users and nonusers of complementary and alternative medicine in Washington State: a cost minimization analysis. J Altern Complement Med. 2010;16(4):411-17.
8 Herman PM, Szczurko O, Cooley K, Mills EJ. Cost-effectiveness of naturopathic care for chronic low back pain. Altern Ther Health Med. 2008;14(2):32-39.
9 Korthals-de Bos, IB, Hoving JL, van Tulder MW et al. Cost effectiveness of physiotherapy, manual therapy, and general practitioner care for neck pain: economic evaluation alongside a randomised control trial. BMJ 2003; 326(7395): 911-917.
10 Hernan WH, Brandle M, Zhang P et al. Costs associated with the primary prevention of type 2 diabetes mellitus in the diabetes prevention program. Diabetes Care. 2003; 26(1):36-47.
11 Attitudes Toward Naturopathic Medicine. Innovative Research Group. Toronto, ON. 2011.
12 Druss BG, Rosenheck RA. Association between use of unconventional therapies and conventional medical services. JAMA. 1999;282(7):651-656.
13 Seely D, Szczurko O, Cooley K et al. Naturopathic medicine for the prevention of cardiovascular disease: a randomized clinical trial. Can Med Assoc J. 2013; 185(9):E409-E416.
14 Herman PM, Szczurko O, Cooley K, Seely D. A naturopathic approach to the prevention of cardiovascular disease: cost-effectiveness analysis of a pragmatic multi-worksite randomized clinical trial. JOEM. 2014; 56(2):171-176.
15 Cherkin DC, Deyo RA, Sherman KJ, et al. Characteristics of visits to licensed acupuncturists, chiropractors, massage therapists, and naturopathic physicians. J Am Board Fam Pract. Nov-Dec 2002;15(6):463-472.
16 Lafferty WE, Tyree PT, Bellas AS et al. Insurance coverage and subsequent utilization of complementary and alternative medicine providers. Am J Manag Care 2006; 12(7): 397-404.
17 Phase I Final Report: Alternative Healthcare Project. King County Medical Blue Shield. 1995.

Last Reviewed : 05/19/16