Written Sep 10th, 2014 by Franco Varriano
Practitioner Spotlight: Dr. Cheryl Wong, ND
This is a blog series profiling the philosophies, practices, and work spaces of integrative health professionals. This week we spoke with Dr. Cheryl Wong, ND.
Cheryl Wong is a Naturopathic Doctor and Licensed Acupuncturist with a private practice in Saratogaa Springs, NY. She graduated from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA.
What inspired you to become an integrative practitioner?
My biggest inspiration is my grandmother. She instilled in me an appreciation for the ways in which individual health is connected to everything else around us, and that having good health is one of the most precious possessions we will have. Growing up in America while surrounded by Chinese therapies at home, I also became aware that Americans were missing out on the benefits of an integrated approach using conventional and alternative methods. I hope to offer the best of those worlds to my patients.
Do you have any mentors?
There are too many to name them all. For Western herbal and gastrointestinal questions, I look up to Dr. Eric Yarnell, ND. For general questions and environmental medicine guidance, I rely on Dr. John Hibbs, ND. And for constitutional homeopathic prescribing, Dr. Nancy Mercer, ND has the most analytical and precise approach. One doctor whom I shadowed during school, and whose practice really inspired the way I want to run my practice is Dr. Cynthia Buxton, ND, LAc.
Most of all, I regard my Chinese medicine professors at Bastyr as more than mentors, almost parental figures. Dr. Ying Wang, MD, LAc, Dr. Yi Wei Ding, MD, LAc, Dr. Benjamin Apichai, MD, EAMP, Dr. Hong Yu, MD, LAc, and Dr. Yuanming Lu, MD, LAc have helped me understand the balance that is required to achieve health, both for my patients, and for me.
What are your favorite blogs, books or information sources?
In the information age, there is no shortage of where to turn for information and fact checking. My favorite places to read about the epidemiology, pathology, diagnostic workup, conventional treatments and prognosis of specific diseases is at Medscape, Dynamed, and Family Practice Notebook, which are all free.
UptoDate is another great resource, however, it is an investment that may be difficult to make while first starting a practice. Other websites are useful for staying current on standard of care is the US Preventive Services Task Force and Centers for Disease Control.
I also subscribe to the New England Journal of Medicine Journal Watch and Physician’s First Watch for news updates. These resources help me stay on top of what my patients’ standard options are, and gauge how best to approach treatment.
Other databases that have helped me navigate using multiple Western and Chinese herbs are the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database and Natural Standard. It’s also free for any CNME-accredited naturopathic doctor to subscribe to the Naturopathic Doctor News and Review, which contains information that is categorized by systems and treatment approaches.
I follow a blog by Dr. Lee Know, ND, who occasionally writes synopses of new research on food, nutrition, and disease. And of course, I use Pubmed including all of its features like personal login and history tracking to stay current with past topics I’ve searched or to look up articles I saved.
As for books, I’m constantly flipping through the heavy pages of Alan Gaby, MD’s Nutritional Medicine. Dirk Powell’s Endocrinology book has been helpful for referencing hormonal imbalances. And I frequently look through Fitzpatrick’s Color Atlas and Synopsis of Clinical Dermatology as a quick reference. For Chinese medicine, I have the Acupuncture Desktop Reference Volume I at my side. For quick mind jogging, I’ll use The Clinical Manual of Chinese Herbal Patent Medicines by Will Maclean. I love Richard Tan’s books on acupuncture. Lastly, my brow is always furrowed and nose buried in Bensky’s Chinese Herbal Medicine: Formulas and Strategies. But, there are so many more books that I could mention.
Something people don’t know about you?
Hmm…I guess people may not know that I will go to great lengths to enjoy really good food and music. Nothing is more fun to me than to find mushrooms in the forest, pick berries, and garden, and then cook a delicious meal for loved ones—enjoying food and playing music together.
How big is your practice?
I currently have a small but growing practice in Saratoga Springs, NY. Right now, I do everything from check-in, scheduling, and seeing patients, to billing and marketing. I work in a beautiful office with another acupuncturist, so I have the freedom to refer patients to her when I need to be absent, and I get referrals from her for complex cases that require more than just acupuncture.
How do you deliver care?
Right now, I have people driving as far as 4 hours away to see me. I don’t think this is ideal. For some of those patients, I will do telephone/skype visits for their convenience since driving such long distances can add to their stress. I hope that Naturopathic medicine will get licensed soon in New York so that more practitioners will be drawn to practice here, and be able to meet the growing demand for integrative care.
How you deliver personalized care?
My business model is the patient comes first. I have a few systems in place to best utilize my time, while trying to meet my patients’ goals for each visit. I usually receive the patient’s intake form electronically a couple days before the visit so that I know in advance aspects of their care I want to focus on. I have patient handouts pre-written on common aspects of preventive care for different conditions. And my patients receive a summary of major topics discussed during the visit so that everyone is on the same page. I encourage my patients to contact me by phone, email, or patient portal when concerns and questions arise or when they need extra support to meet their health goals. Because my treatment approach is unconventional, it’s important that my patients and I have well-defined expectations together.
I find that when your genuine intention is to meet your patients’ goals, the business will inadvertently grow.
Software or other tools you use in your practice:
First of all, Fullscript has been a game-changer for offering my patients easy access to my recommendations. It is an incredible tool for truly focusing on the patient’s concern by eliminating conflicts of interest that exist when it comes to stocking a full, functional dispensary. I’ve also gotten feedback from my patients who say that they like using the system.
Another saving grace is CharmEHR (Electronic Health Records). I use their platform for appointment booking and reminders, electronic records, their patient portal for messaging and access to patient handouts, and billing. It is a great system that takes into account how fast your practice grows because it’s free until you open more than a certain number of encounters per month. Through their platform, I receive filled-out intake forms, medical records and documents, and have the potential to receive lab results.
For receiving payment, I use ROAMpay x. For bookkeeping, I use Quickbooks for Mac, which is very intuitive. For my website, I use BlueHost as my hosting server and Wordpress as my publishing platform. I like BlueHost because they have excellent support and updates. Wordpress is wonderful for a technology novice like me. You can use social media sites like Facebook Pages and Twitter to jumpstart marketing your practice, but the best way to increase visibility on the web is having a Google+ page.
Any advice for new grads?
Start small. It’s okay to grow slowly. Be patient.
Integrative medicine is the future of medicine, and naturopathic doctors are some of the most qualified practitioners to deliver this type of care. The best way for our profession to grow is to support the majority of us who are starting or entering private practices. I’m grateful to be able to play a role in the growth of our profession and for all the support I continue to receive from this pioneering community.