Do No Harm

“Do no harm.” It’s one of the most famous, oft-quoted oaths of the medical profession. And it’s important for naturopathic doctors too. In fact, it’s one of the six principles of naturopathic medicine, the concepts that help define what naturopathic medicine is:

  1. The healing power of nature – support the patient’s inherent capacity to heal
  2. Identify and treat the causes – treat the root causes of disease
  3. Do no harm – use the least invasive, least toxic approaches first
  4. Doctor as teacher – teach patients how to achieve better health
  5. Treat the whole person – mental, physical and spiritual health all matter
  6. Prevention – work toward overall health and prevention of disease[1]

While “do no harm” is prevalent as an oath and is taught in medical ethics classes to every medical professional, very risky medical interventions are becoming more commonplace, and the potential for inadvertent harm is much greater. So, what does “do no harm” mean in practice? How does your doctor use this concept to keep you as safe as possible?

For any doctor, it means weighing the relative risks and benefits, and making a judgment call. For many naturopathic doctors, this may mean less medical intervention instead of more. See, naturopathic doctors have so many tools to use to help people get better, that we have developed a framework for thinking through the problem of what interventions will help the patient most and carry the least risk. This framework is called the “Therapeutic Order.”[2]

We can think the therapeutic order as layers of soil under the ground. At the top level, where the grass grows, are the least risky, most beneficial therapies. We call these the “foundations of health.” These treatments are very safe, but tend to take a little longer. At the deepest level, way down deep in the soil are the riskiest therapies, like pharmaceuticals or surgery, which may also have the quickest effects.

In between these two depths is a range of interventions, dozens of therapeutic tools. Naturopathic doctors use the concept of “do no harm” by choosing therapies that are the least invasive, appropriate therapies for a patient. This means that while naturopathic treatment may take a little longer, the patient is exposed to less risk and fewer side effects. It also means that when someone is very ill, the most appropriate therapy may be pharmaceuticals or a referral to a surgeon.

Naturopathic doctors assess where the patient is and match that with interventions that are likely to work. Who knew so much thinking was going on, even before your naturopathic doctor has even presented your treatment plan?

Curious if you’ve explored all your treatment options? Schedule a visit to discuss your current treatments and health concerns and we’ll get it figured out.

[1] American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. House of Delegates Position Paper Definition of Naturopathic Medicine. Washington, DC, 2011. Web. 21 Sept 2017.

[2] Zeff JL, Snider P, Myers SP, Degrandpre Z. A Hierarchy of Healing: The Therapeutic Order. Textbook of Natural Medicine. 2013:18-33. doi:10.1016/b978-1-4377-2333-5.00003-1.