Recently, the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) together with the UK General Osteopathic Council (GOsC) have sent new guidance to over 4,800 UK osteopaths on the GOsC register. The guidance covers marketing claims for pregnant women, children and babies. It also provides examples of what kind of claims can, and can’t, be made for these patient groups.
Regulated by statute, osteopaths may offer advice on, diagnosis of and treatment for conditions only if they hold convincing evidence. Claims for treating conditions specific to pregnant women, children and babies are not supported by the evidence available to date.
The new ASA guidance is intended to help osteopaths talk about the healthcare they provide in a way that complies with the Advertising Codes and to protect consumers from being misled. It provides some basic principles and many examples of claims that are, and aren’t, acceptable. The ASA hopes it will provide greater clarity to osteopaths on how to advertise osteopathic care for pregnant women, children and babies responsibly.
Specifically, the guidance points out that “osteopaths may make claims to treat general as well as specific patient populations, including pregnant women, children and babies, provided they are qualified to do so. Osteopaths may not claim to treat conditions or symptoms presented as specific to these groups (e.g. colic, growing pains, morning sickness) unless the ASA or CAP has seen evidence for the efficacy of osteopathy for the particular condition claimed, or for which the advertiser holds suitable substantiation. Osteopaths may refer to the provision of general health advice to specific patient populations, providing they do not make implied and unsubstantiated treatment claims for conditions.”
Examples of claims previously made by UK osteopaths which are “unlikely to be acceptable” include:
- Osteopaths often work with lactation consultations where babies are having difficulty feeding.
- Osteopaths are qualified to advise and treat patients across the full breadth of primary care practice.
- Osteopaths often work with crying, unsettled babies.
- Birth is a stressful process for babies.
- Babies’ skulls are susceptible to strain or moulding, leading to asymmetrical or flattened head shapes. This usually resolves quickly but can sometimes be retained. Osteopathy can help.
- If your baby suffers from excessive crying, sometimes known as colic, osteopathy might help.
- Children often complain of growing pains in their muscles and joints; your osteopath can treat these pains.
- Osteopathy can help your baby recover from the trauma of birth; I will gently massage your baby’s skull.
- Midwives often recommend an osteopathic check-up for babies after birth.
- Osteopathy can help with breast soreness or mastitis after birth.
- If your baby is having difficulty breastfeeding, osteopathy might be able to help.
- Many pregnant women experience pain in the pelvic girdle area. Osteopaths offer safe, gentle manipulation and stretches.
- Many pregnant women find osteopathy relieves common symptoms such as nausea and heartburn.
- Use of osteopathy can limit perineum or pelvic floor trauma.
- If your baby suffers from constipation then osteopathy could help.
- Osteopathy can also play an important preventative role in the care of a baby, child or teenager and bring the body back to a state of balance in health.
- In assessing a newborn baby, an osteopath checks for asymmetry or tension in the pelvis, spine and head, and ensures that a good breathing pattern has been established.
- Cranial osteopathy releases stresses and strains in the skull and throughout the body.
- Osteopaths can feel involuntary motion and mechanisms within the body.
- Cranial osteopathy aims to reduce restrictions in movement.
Elsewhere in the ASA announcement, we find the statement that “The effectiveness of osteopathy for treating some conditions is underpinned by robust evidence”. The two examples provided are rheumatic pain and joint pain. I have to say I was mystified by this. I am not aware of robust evidence for these two indications. Perhaps someone could help me out here and provide some references?
The only condition for which there is enough encouraging evidence is, as far, as I know low back pain – and even here I would not call the evidence ‘robust’. Am I mistaken? If you think so, please supply the evidence with links to the references.
But, in general, the new guidance is certainly a step in the right direction. Now we have to wait and see whether osteopaths change their advertising and behaviour accordingly and what happens to those who don’t.
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