Naturopathy forms an increasingly significant part of the Australian healthcare setting, with high utilisation of naturopaths by the Australian public and a large therapeutic footprint in rural and regional Australia. However, despite these circumstances, there has been little exploration of the interface between naturopathy providers and conventional primary health care practitioners in rural and regional Australia. The study reported here examined the referral practices and factors that underlie referral to naturopaths amongst a sample of rural and regional Australian general practitioners (GPs).
A 27-item questionnaire was sent to all 1,486 GPs currently practising in rural and regional Divisions of General Practice in New South Wales, Australia.
A total of 585 GPs responded to the questionnaire, with 49 questionnaires returned as "no longer at this address" (response rate: 40.7%). One-quarter of GPs (25.8%) referred to a naturopath at least a few times per year while nearly half (48.8%) stated that they would not refer to a naturopath under any circumstances. GPs were more likely to refer to a naturopath if the GP: was not initially from a rural area (OR=1.78; 95% CI: 0.95, 3.33); believes in the efficacy of naturopathy (OR=5.62; 95% CI: 2.42, 11.36); has seen positive results from naturopathy previously (OR=2.61; 95% CI: 1.35, 5.05); perceives a lack of other treatment options for their patient (OR=5.25; 95% CI: 2.42; 11.36); uses peer-reviewed literature as their major source of CAM information (OR=3.03; 95% CI: 1.65, 5.55); uses CAM practitioners as a major source of CAM information (OR=6.09; 95% CI: 2.91, 12.72); and does not have an existing relationship with any CAM provider (OR=3.03; 95% CI: 1.53, 6.25).
There is little interaction (both via referrals as well as the development of professional relationships) between the naturopathic and GP communities in rural and regional Australia, with significant levels of both support and opposition for naturopathic referral amongst GPs. The significant presence and high utilisation of naturopathy in rural primary health care, which appears to work in parallel to conventional medical care rather than in conjunction with it, should serve as an impetus for increased research into naturopathy practice, policy and regulation in rural and regional health.