Wisconsin is in the early stages of integrating naturopathic medicine into its health care safety net.
Gov. Tony Evers signed a bill earlier this year allowing naturopathic doctors to get licensed, joining 22 other U.S. states. Naturopathic medicine emphasizes preventive and natural techniques including therapies involving herbs, massage, acupuncture and more.
In July, Evers established a Naturopathic Medicine Examining Board to regulate the practice. The board’s members include Dr. David Kiefer, medical director of UW Health’s Integrative Health Consult Clinic, who said he looks forward to the day medical and naturopathic doctors have integrated practices.
"The more health care providers that we have working on prevention and helping people to stay well rather than let diseases progress, the better," Kiefer said in a February interview with Wisconsin Public Radio’s "The Morning Show." "The more of us that are working in this together in a collaborative way, I think it will help the people of Wisconsin."
Some naturopathic doctors urge herbal remedies, exercise or mind-body nutrition. In other states, naturopathic doctors attend accredited naturopathic medical schools and specialize in clinical nutrition, acupuncture, homeopathic medicine, botanical medicine and counseling.
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Creating regulations over naturopathic medicine will take at least two years, said Jill Crista, a Naturopathic Medicine Examining Board member and past president of the Wisconsin Naturopathic Doctors Association. The timeline includes establishing rules, creating a licensing exam and continuing education requirements.
Naturopathic doctors licensed in other states may practice in Wisconsin but with limitations. The new law allows them to diagnose and treat patients, perform minor procedures and order lab tests and imaging studies. They can’t prescribe medications.
At least 16 naturopathic clinics exist around the state, according to the Wisconsin Naturopathic Doctors Association.
Katarina Meister is a naturopathic doctor who works at Lakeside Natural Medicine in Milwaukee's Shorewood neighborhood. She's licensed in Washington and moved to Wisconsin in October to start practicing.
"With the license, I’ll be able to function fully as a primary provider," Meister told WPR's "The Morning Show." "(Patients will) be able to see a provider that has medical training, and has a holistic background and expertise in naturopathic medicine."
Lakeside Natural Medicine opened in 2011 and has multiple naturopathic doctors. Meister said she can provide nutrition and lifestyle advice to patients now but looks forward to expanding her duties further. She is encouraged by the state creating standards and regulations around naturopathic medicine.
"For that license, people will need to take a national licensing exam, they will have to apply for licensure and will have to continue education," she said. "It will be safer for patients to seek out naturopathic care."