Every business has a story, and I’m pleased to be able to share these with you. This month we chatted to Dr Jenny Draper of Wingham Wellbeing. This fantastic local operation has a very holistic and non-traditional approach to health.
Why did you start Wingham Wellbeing?
I had been a GP in Wingham since 2001 and had also worked in a skin cancer clinic, but it always felt like I was running my own race. I wanted to be able to streamline my work practices and I knew there was so much of the GP’s job which could be done better by non-GPs. That’s where I came up with the team concept. The working between rooms and triage concepts came from observation over the years of other successful medical models. I wanted to work smarter, and a little bit harder! Trying to implement radically different ideas doesn’t really sit well with your bosses when you’re an employee, so I started my own business and took the risks myself.
You offer a range of other services aside from the day to day GP activities. Can you tell us a bit more about them?
Our services include appointments with our nurse/midwife, Exercise Physiologist and our Nutritionist/Health Promotion Officer. Alison Ramsay, Naturopath, also consults from our rooms Monday and Fridays. Our practice also has a system of voluntary patient registration associated with an annual contract which allows subscribers to the practice to attend our popular “walk-in” clinics and make appointments to see me outside working hours for Enhanced Primary Care. The practice philosophy is to collect measurements where and whenever possible to allow disease states to be detected early and to encourage patients to self-monitor their progress and take ownership and responsibility for their wellness.
You’ve branched into what you call Integrative Medicine. Can you tell us more about what is behind this?
General Practice is the cornerstone of the wonderful health system we have in Australia. However, more than 80% of our population regularly seek complimentary alternative therapies and medicines (CAMS). For this reason, Wingham Wellbeing embraces the additions to wellness promotion and disease management that these therapies can provide. This is called Integrative Medicine – it encompasses taking into consideration the patient’s existing problems and medications, their environment and dietary exposures, and then formulating a diagnosis and management plan that goes two ways. The patient is an active participant in an Integrative Medicine plan.
I have undertaken extra training in Nutritional and Environmental Medicine, and trained in prescribing nutrient therapies for mental illness, Autism and ADHD, as pioneered by Dr Bill Walsh and Dr Carl Pfeiffer. Unfortunately, the Medicare funding system cannot support consultations that are purely for this type of holistic medicine. In particular, Medicare will not pay for the testing required to accurately diagnose and manage these conditions using nutrient therapy. Medicare rebates are not available at all for naturopathy, but some private health funds may offer rebates.
Patients interested in seeking my opinion on matters of mental health, gut health, food sensitivities and behavioural problems will need to complete a comprehensive questionnaire and then undertake specialised testing. Private billing will apply for these consultations, so that Medicare is not involved. Integrative Medicine Clinics are commencing in March on Saturdays and appointments are now available for purely this service, without needing to subscribe to Wingham Wellbeing or become a regular patient of the practice.
What was it that led you down this path?
Actually, it was a patient who wanted to better understand how her symptoms were linked to her diet. I started looking into pyrroluria and because this is a condition not acknowledged by mainstream doctors, I was instantly thrust into the integrative sphere. At the same time I have experimented on myself (“Physician heal thyself”), and found that nutrient therapy is a valuable tool for creating wellness.
Tell us about your views on what healthy eating is and how it affects our health and wellbeing.
It’s become widely accepted that brain and body function is linked to gut function, especially in disease states. Publications like Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride’s Gut and Psychology Syndrome, Dr David Perlmutter’s Grain Brain and cardiologist Dr William Davis’s Wheat Belly expose the science behind this link. The food we eat sets the scene within our gut. Unfortunately, current dietary guidelines are out of step with the latest evidence, so most doctors and dietitians who use these to guide their patients’ choices are unwittingly (I hope) continuing to contribute to the obesity and heart disease epidemics. The only country in the world in which the death rate from heart disease and diabetes is actually declining is Sweden, where the dietary guidelines follow the Edify food pyramid: the same guidelines we follow at Wingham Wellbeing.
How do you juggle such a busy practice and family life?
I’m fortunate to have great staff who help me out, as being a single mum working eight ‘til six, Monday to Friday, and on call 24/7 make it a bit hard to find a social life! My kids appreciate their time with me, and I would love to see more of their school activities, but it is a constant juggling act.
Where do you see Wingham Wellbeing in, say, five years from now?
Five years ago I would’ve said “in a nice purpose-built medical practice”. Now we have achieved that “where”, I would love to have another integrative doctor alongside me, and I’d like to add to our team other holistic practitioners, as we have plenty of room! I will continue to train registrars, because I believe they are the future of keeping general practice alive as the cornerstone of encouraging a healthy community.
What is the best part about being in business in The Manning Valley?
Being able to offer employment to such fabulous people like my team, allowing them and their families to enjoy the wonderful place we live in and call home, the Manning Valley.
Thank you Dr Jenny.