MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

Monthly Archives: June 2019

I am sure this press-release of today will be of interest:

Good Thinking, a charity which aims to promote science and challenge pseudoscience, is bringing the action after the PSA acknowledged that multiple members of the Society of Homeopaths continue to offer CEASE therapy – a purported treatment for autism which is targeted particularly at children and which relies on the false notion that autism is caused by vaccination, and can be cured with homeopathic treatments, high-dosage Vitamin C, and dietary restriction.

The PSA has acknowledged that CEASE therapy is potentially harmful and conflicts with the advice of the NHS in several respects, including with regard to the childhood vaccinations for potentially life-threatening conditions. Nevertheless, the PSA decided on April 1st to approve the Society of Homeopaths’ accreditation for a further year.

Michael Marshall, Project Director of Good Thinking, said: “By being part of the PSA’s Accredited Voluntary Register scheme, the Society of Homeopaths and its members – including those who practice CEASE therapy – can point to the PSA’s logo on their websites and marketing materials as a sign that they are competent, trustworthy and safe. But that badge, and the credibility and legitimacy it confers, only carries any meaning if the PSA takes seriously their duty to protect the public from harmful practices.

“For the PSA to acknowledge that members of the Society of Homeopaths are offering a treatment that the PSA themselves recognise as harmful, and which is targeted at a particularly vulnerable group, and to then reaccredit them all the same makes a mockery of the PSA’s whole accreditation scheme. For PSA accreditation to mean anything at all, the public needs to be confident that when the PSA identify potentially harmful therapies, they take the necessary steps to protect the public, rather than accepting it and, effectively, endorsing it”.

The Society of Homeopaths has been part of the PSA’s Accredited Voluntary Register scheme since 2014. The PSA’s decision to accredit the Society of Homeopaths and its subsequent decisions to re-accredit have been the subject of criticism from both autism rights campaigners and those who support evidence-based medicine.

Marshall said: “The PSA encourage members of the public to choose healthcare practitioners which belong to one of its accredited registers, and even have a tool on their site to find accredited practitioners. That advice is fundamentally undermined by the fact that a patient could, via the PSA’s list of accredited practitioners, find themselves consulting with a homeopath who discourages vaccination and believes they can cure children of autism.”

Good Thinking’s action has drawn support from autism campaigners, such as Emma Dalmayne: “We as autistic people, are bombarded with the discriminatory rhetoric that we are in need of a cure. CEASE is not a cure for our neurological difference, and it is proven to be extremely harmful. The PSA should not endorse the Society of Homeopaths while their members offer this harmful therapy. The Society of

Homeopaths are at present allowing their members to mislead the public, which in turn puts vulnerable autistic children in harm’s way.”

If Good Thinking’s Judicial Review is successful, the PSA will likely be required to revisit their decision to reaccredit the Society of Homeopaths, this time paying proper regard to the need to protect the public and in particular autistic children who are the main targets for CEASE therapy.

As a small charity, Good Thinking have appealed for support in funding their Judicial Review, and are urging supporters to contribute to their crowdfunding campaign, at crowdjustice.com/case/gts-cease-psa/.

Additional Quotes:

· Simon Singh, Science Writer and Chair of Good Thinking: “Only this week we saw Prince Charles become a patron of the Faculty of Homeopathy. We have become accustomed to Prince Charles endorsing dangerous quackery, but we expect more of the PSA. The credibility of the PSA is at stake when it allows the Society of Homeopaths to retain accredited status despite their members offering this clearly harmful therapy.”

· Laura Thomason, Project Manager, Good Thinking: “Since 2017 we have raised concerns with the PSA about Society of Homeopaths members practicing CEASE therapy, and how we felt the actions they took to protect the public were wholly inadequate. We were therefore shocked and dismayed to see the PSA reaccredit the Society of Homeopaths, and believe their decision to do so, in the absence of any real sign from the Society that they are taking the protection of autistic children seriously, to be unlawful.”

· Professor Edzard Ernst: “According to the ‘like cures like’ principle of homeopathy, Dr Tinus Smits, the Dutch homeopath who invented CEASE, claimed that autism must be cured by applying homeopathic doses of the substances which allegedly caused the condition. CEASE therapists thus ‘detoxify’ all assumed causative factors – vaccines, regular medication, environmental toxic exposures, effects of illness, etc. – with homeopathically prepared substances that were administered prior to the onset of autism. The assumptions of CEASE therapy fly in the face of science. There is also no clinical evidence that CEASE therapy is effective in curing autism or alleviating its symptoms. By misleading desperate parents that CEASE therapy works, homeopaths can do untold harm.”

A team from Israel conducted a pragmatic trial to evaluate the impact of So-called Alternative Medicine (SCAM) treatments on postoperative symptoms. Patients ≥ 18 years referred to SCAM treatments by surgical medical staff were allocated to standard of care with SCAM treatment (SCAM group) or without SCAM. Referral criteria were patient preference and practitioner availability. SCAM treatments included Acupuncture, Reflexology, or Guided Imagery. The primary outcome variable was the change from baseline in symptom severity, measured by Visual Analogue Scale (VAS).

A total of 1127 patients were enrolled, 916 undergoing 1214 SCAM treatments and 211 controls. Socio-demographic characteristics were similar in both groups. Patients in the SCAM group had more severe baseline symptoms. Symptom reduction was greater in the SCAM group compared with controls. No significant adverse events were reported with any of the CAM therapies.

The authors concluded that SCAM treatments provide additional relief to Standard Of Care (SOC) for perioperative symptoms. Larger randomized control trial studies with longer follow-ups are needed to confirm these benefits.

Imagine a situation where postoperative patients are being asked “do you want merely our standard care or do you prefer having a lot of extra care, fuss and attention? Few would opt for the former – perhaps just 211 out of a total of 1127, as in the trial above. Now imagine being one of those patients receiving a lot of extra care and attention; would you not feel better, and would your symptoms not improve faster?

I am sure you have long guessed where I am heading. The infamous A+B versus B design has been discussed often enough on this blog. Researchers using it can be certain that they will generate a positive result for their beloved SCAM – even if the SCAM itself is utterly ineffective. The extra care and attention plus the raised expectation will do the trick. If the researchers want to make extra sure that their bogus treatments come out of this study smelling of roses, they can – like our Israeli investigators – omit to randomise patients to the two groups and let them chose according to their preference.

To cut a long story short: this study had zero chance to yield a negative result.

  • As such it was not a test but a promotion of SCAM.
  • As such it was not science but pseudo science.
  • As such it was not ethical but unethical.

WHEN WILL WE FINALLY STOP PUBLISHING SUCH MISLEADING NONSENSE?

I have reported about the French activities against homeopathy before (see here and here). Yesterday, this article brought considerable more clarity into the situation. Here is my (not entirely literal) translation and below the French original:

Unsurprisingly, the French health regulator (HAS) has voted on Wednesday with a very large majority (only one vote against) for the discontinuation of the reimbursement of homeopathic products. This decision, which is not denied by the health ministry, will be officially announced this Friday morning by the president of the authority, Prof Dominique Le Guludec, during a press conference. Then it will be up to the health minister, Agnès Buzyn, to decide or not on the discontinuation of reimbursement.

I will follow the advice of the health authority‘ the health minister declared only recently. This advice is the direct consequence of a first meeting of the commission which took place in Mid May and gave an opinion that already went into that direction. The laboratories concerned had the right to be heard and to present their view. Obviously this was not convincing.

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Sans surprise, la Commission de la transparence de la Haute autorité de santé a voté ce mercredi à la très grande majorité (une seule voix contre) le déremboursement des produits homéopathiques. Cette décision, que ne dément pas le ministère de la Santé, sera annoncée officiellement vendredi matin par la présidente de la Haute Autorité de santé, la professeur Dominique Le Guludec, au cours d’une conférence de presse. A charge ensuite à la ministre de la Santé, Agnès Buzyn, de décider ou non ce déremboursement.

«Je me tiendrai à l’avis de la Haute Autorité de santé», a encore récemment déclarée la ministre. Cet avis est la conséquence directe d’une première réunion, qui s’est tenue à la mi mai, de la dite Commission, qui avait alors rendu un avis transitoire, allant clairement dans ce sens. Comme le stipule le processus, les laboratoires concernées avaient le droit d’être entendus et de se défendre. Manifestement, ces derniers n’ont pas convaincus.

This 25/6/2019 press release (distributed by ResponseSource Press Release Wire on behalf of The Faculty of Homeopathy) is today the topic of several UK newspaper articles. Here it is in its full beauty and without any change:

The Faculty of Homeopathy is delighted to announce His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales as Patron of the Faculty of Homeopathy.

Dr Gary Smyth, President of the Faculty of Homeopathy comments, “As the Faculty celebrates its 175th anniversary this year, it is an enormous honour for us to receive the Patronage of His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales and I am delighted to announce this news today. This news is also a fitting memorial to our late friend, colleague and former Faculty President, Dr Peter Fisher, who was a global champion of Homeopathy. I look forward to working with members, friends and supporters of the Faculty, continuing our important work, promoting Homeopathy within both public and professional circles and maintaining awareness of this system of medicine”.

About the Faculty of Homeopathy

Founded in 1844 and incorporated by Act of Parliament in 1950, the Faculty of Homeopathy is one of the longest established Homeopathic organisations in the world. The Faculty has long been recognised as the preeminent membership organisation for statutorily regulated healthcare professionals who integrate Homeopathy within their practice. The Faculty’s mission statement is “To promote and support the highest standards of practice, education and research in Homeopathy”.

The Faculty is an international and multidisciplinary organisation, embracing a wide range of healthcare professionals. The Faculty provides internationally recognised training pathways in Homeopathy for Doctors, Dentists, Pharmacists, Veterinary Surgeons, Nurses and other statutorily regulated healthcare professionals. Faculty members are medical professionals who are qualified and trained in both conventional medicine and Homeopathic medicine. This provides them with a unique perspective on healthcare and allows them to effectively integrate these various disciplines.

In addition to Membership and Academic activities, the Faculty’s other key areas of work include Promotion, Quality Assurance, and Publication of the international research journal, Homeopathy.

About homeopathy

Homeopathy is a natural form of medicine used by over 200 million people worldwide for both acute and chronic conditions. It is based on the principle of treating “like with like”. That is, a substance which causes symptoms when taken in large doses, can be used in small amounts to treat those same symptoms.

For example, drinking too much coffee can cause sleeplessness and agitation. According to this principle, when made into a Homeopathic medicine, this could be used to treat people with those symptoms. However, Homeopathic medicines use minimum doses of the active substance, which results in the medicines being non-toxic.

Homeopathy should be seen as a complementary treatment rather than an alternative to conventional medicine. Despite the differences in approach, Homeopathic and conventional treatments can work very well together and are frequently used as part of an integrative approach. Consulting a medical doctor who is trained in Homeopathy allows patients more treatment choices. www.facultyofhomeopathy.org

For more information or to arrange an interview with a member of the Faculty of Homeopathy please contact Chris Burton: cburton@britishhomeopathic.org or telephone : 07533 913589

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I did take up the kind offer to arrange an interview to be published on this blog. Yesterday early afternoon, I thus emailed Chris Burton. Sadly, this did not (yet?) result in a response. If he still does come back, I will post an interview at a later date.

Therefore, I have to leave you with the comment I gave to THE TIMES yesterday; part of which is in today’s paper together with quotes from two other critics of homeopathy:

Prince Charles’ endorsement might turn out to be a poisoned chalice. His reputation in science is not exactly the best, and his patronage will simply re-emphasise the many negative verdicts of independent experts on homeopathy. The European Academies Science Advisory Council, for instance, stated recently this: “… we acknowledge that a placebo effect may appear in individual patients but we agree with previous extensive evaluations concluding that there are no known diseases for which there is robust, reproducible evidence that homeopathy is effective beyond the placebo effect.”

Tian Jiu (TJ) therapy is a so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) that has been widely utilized in the management of allergic rhinitis (AR). TJ is also known as “drug moxibustion” or “vesiculating moxibustion.” Herbal patches are applied on the selected acupoints or the diseased body part. In TCM, this treatment is said to regulate the functions of meridians and zang-fu organs, warm the channels, disperse coldness, invigorate qi movement, harmonize nutrient absorption and defence mechanisms, and resolve stagnation in the body and stasis of the blood.

But does it work? This single-blinded, three-arm, randomized controlled study evaluated the efficacy of TJ therapy in AR. A total of 138 AR patients were enrolled. The TJ group and placebo group both received 4-weeks of treatment with either TJ or placebo patches for 2 hours. The patches were applied to Dazhui (GV 14), bilateral Feishu (UB 13), and bilateral Shenshu (UB 23) points. Patients received one session per week and then underwent a 4-week follow-up. The waitlist group received no treatment during the corresponding treatment period, but would be given compensatory TJ treatment in the next 4 weeks.

The primary outcome was the change of the Total Nasal Symptom Score (TNSS) after treatment. The secondary outcomes included the changes of Rhinoconjunctivitis Quality of Life Questionnaire (RQLQ) and rescue medication score (RMS).

After the treatment period, the total TNSS in TJ group was significantly reduced compared with baseline, but showed no statistical difference compared with placebo. Among the four domains of TNSS, the change of nasal obstruction exhibited statistical difference compared with placebo group. The total RQLQ score in TJ group was significantly reduced compared with both placebo and waitlist groups. The needs of rescue medications were not different between the two groups.

There were no serious adverse events. The common adverse events included flush, pruritus, blister, and pigmentation, occurring in 17, 23, 3, and 36 person-times among TJ group, and 3, 7, 1, and 4 person-times among placebo group, respectively. These adverse events were generally tolerated and disappeared quickly after removing the patches.

The authors (from the Hong Kong Chinese Medicine Clinical Study Centre, School of Chinese Medicine, Hong Kong Baptist University) concluded that this randomized, single-blinded, controlled trial served primary evidence of the efficacy and safety of TJ therapy on AR in Hong Kong. This pilot study provided a fundamental TJ protocol for future research. Through adjusting treatment timing, frequency, retention time, and even body response settings, it has the potential to develop into an optimal therapeutic method for future application.

The authors of this poorly written paper seem to ignore their own findings by concluding as they do. The fact is that the primary endpoint of this trial failed to show a significant difference between TJ and placebo. Moreover, TJ does have considerable adverse effects. Therefore, this study  fails to demonstrate both the effectiveness and the safety of TJ as a treatment of AR.

PS

I often hesitate whether or not to discuss the plethora such frightfully incompetent research. The reason I sometimes do it is to alert the public to the fact that so much utter rubbish is published by incompetent researchers in trashy (but Medline-listed) journals, passed by incompetent ethics committees, supported by naïve funding agencies, accepted by reviewers and editors who evidently do not do their job properly. Do all these people have forgotten that they have a responsibility towards the public?

It is time to stop this nonsense!

It gives a bad name to science, misleads the public and inhibits progress.

I have recently been alerted to this remarkable article. It starts by telling the story of a patient who got rid of his alcohol addiction by using a homeopathic remedy. The story ends with these words: “It’s been two years now since I have been sober and I have no plans to consume alcohol ever gain.” Then the article continues:

This was Rahul’s story. Do you find your story quite similar to Rahul’s? Do you feel yourself falling down the abyss of addiction? Like you’ve lost control over your actions? Then Be like Rahul and take the first step. Join the 45 day No Alcohol challenge and see the difference for yourself.

There are Homeopathic Ingredients which work wonders in Getting You Rid of Addiction to Alcohol. Alcoban is a Homeopathic Anti-Addiction Treatment that helps you Overcome Addiction Using Homeopathy. It is one of the Most Trusted Homeopathic Anti-Addiction Treatment in the world. It can help an addict Beat Any Type of Addiction whether its tobacco, alcohol, drugs or anything else. Regular intake of this homeopathic formula gradually decreases the cravings of drinking. Continuous and prolonged use of Alcoban drop decreases cravings of bad things. You can Get Rid of Alcoholism with Alcoban Homeopathic Drop.

All the Effective Homeopathic Ingredients For Anti-Addiction present in Alcoban are individually quite effective in dealing with various symptoms of addiction but when combined together they form a potent formula that can Curb Tobacco Craving, Treat Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms, make you Stop Using Drugs. Alcoban is also tasteless and colorless which means that it can be given without addict’s knowledge.

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Naturally, I was interested, not because I am an alcoholic but because I was intrigued by the homeopathic remedy and what it might contain. The Alcoban website itself informs us that:

Alcoban Drop is homeopathic anti-addiction formulation made utilizing the benefits of selective homeopathic ingredients, which are further processed as defined in Homeopathy to induce reluctance towards habit-forming mood-altering substances. The substances used in Alcoban detoxify the body for toxic materials deposited in the system from prolonged use of any such substance.

Alcoban is a potent remedy to stop and recover from substance abuse without facing the extreme withdrawal symptoms.

  • Alcoban treatment suppresses cravings naturally.
  • Alcoban helps in anxiety as well as yearnings.
  • Alcoban is well suited to outpatient treatment.
  • Alcoban acts as an anti-addiction treatment for tobacco, alcohol, drug, and smoking addiction.
  • Alcoban treatment is holistic.

Precautions while using:

  • People with severe heart ailments or any other major disease should use Alcoban only after consulting their physician.
  • Pregnant or lactating females should avoid using it.
  • If there is excessive vomiting on using Alcoban, the doses should be reduced. If there is still no change, then it should be stopped completely.

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Sadly, I could not find any information about Alcoban’s ingredients. Nor did I find any evidence that the product is effective. But I don’t give up that easily. A Medline search produced one paper on homeopathy for alcoholism:

This paper discusses the use of homoeopathy in the work of a community alcohol team, focusing on the application of homoeopathy for treating sleep disorder in alcohol-dependent clients. This work is placed in the context of the historical use of homoeopathy for treating ‘alcoholism’ and of the increasing use of complementary therapies in mainstream health care and in drug and alcohol agencies. Issues of research methodology and measurement of outcomes are examined. Examples of some specific homoeopathic treatments, together with a case report, are given to illustrate the potential uses of this form of therapy. It is concluded that homoeopathy can provide a valid and effective therapy to help clients break the cycle of dependence on alcohol. A number of further research questions arise and much clinical and research work needs to be done by those attempting to bring complementary therapies into drug and alcohol treatment.

The article is 22 years old and tells us very little. In particular it does not amount to anything like evidence of efficacy, nor does this indicate that there is much research going on in this area.

What can we conclude from all this?

Not a lot!

Perhaps that Alcoban is not just tasteless and colourless, as the Indian manufacturer proudly points out, but also useless?

I recently received this unexpected and surprising email:

Dear Friend,

I wanted to point out an article that published last month in the New England Journal of Medicine Catalyst that gets to the root of why we are not solving the nation’s current epidemics of chronic pain, obesity, opioids, suicide, and cardiovascular disease.

My co-authors included Dr. Eric Schoomaker, the former surgeon general of the Army; Dr. Tracy Gaudet, who leads cultural transformation at the Veterans Health Administration; and Dr. James Marzolf, the chief health and data analyst in Dr. Gaudet’s office.

In the article Finding the Cause of the Crises: Opioids, Pain, Suicide, Obesity, and Other “Epidemics”, we show how our nation’s response to our current epidemics are tackling the wrong problems.

For example, take the opioid epidemic. The response has been to restrict opioids and focus on other drugs. This narrow approach is compounding the problem. The root cause is that we don’t manage chronic pain appropriately. We need a major roll out of non-pharmacological approaches for pain.

Instead of treating pain with a pill, we need to pay attention to the whole person in mind, body, and spirit. When we do this, we may find that non-drug approaches to treating the person are more appropriate, and treat not only the pain, but the suffering that often accompanies it.

The article describes how systems like the Military and Veterans Health Administration are doing this with transformative approaches that embrace whole person, integrative health.

The good news is that the answers are out there. The entire nation can do this, and we can start now.

Be well.

Dr. Wayne Jonas

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In case you don’t know who my ‘friend’ Wayne is (I did mention him before here and here, for instance), here is a concise summary of his background. As you doubtlessly do know, the NEJM is a (perhaps even the most) respected medical journal. I therefore tried to find the article there and was amazed not to find it. Then I realised that Wayne said it was published not in the NEJM but in the ‘New England Journal of Medicine Catalyst’, a very different proposition.

The New England Journal of Medicine Catalyst brings health care executives, clinical leaders, and clinicians together to share innovative ideas and practical applications for enhancing the value of health care delivery. From a network of top thought leaders, experts, and advisors, our digital publication, quarterly events, and qualified Insights Council provide real-life examples and actionable solutions to help organizations address urgent challenges affecting health care.

But what about the paper that Wayne so warmly recommends? It turns out to be little more than a promotional stunt for integrative medicine. Here is an excerpt from it:

It is often a surprise to people that two of the largest health care systems in the country are trying to radically redesign what they do to provide more whole-person and integrative care. These two systems are run by the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and collectively care for over 20 million people. The nation can learn from their efforts.

The need for reform emerged after the turn of this century when leaders in the DoD and VHA began to hold informal meetings under the title “From Healthcare to Health.” Over the course of those meetings, the participants recognized the failure of their health care systems to get at the underlying causes of chronic disease. In 2009, they secured the support of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to change overall military doctrine and guidance to a radically holistic approach called “Total Force Fitness,” which subsequently led to health and community innovations. An example of these redesign innovations was the Defense and Veterans’ Pain Management Task Force and Report and the resulting strategy that preceded the National Academy of Medicine’s report on pain in America.

Other innovations included the Healthy Base Initiative and the Performance Triad, the latter of which focuses on the importance of asking all patients about their sleep, nutrition, and physical activity. All services — Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Special Forces — continue to shift to whole-person models that seek to implement behavioral and complementary approaches. For example, >6000 providers have been trained in and routinely use Battlefield Acupuncture for pain.

The transformation currently underway in the VHA, which goes under the name “Whole Health,” is also an offshoot of that leadership dialogue from 20 years ago. In the Whole Health approach, the emphasis is to empower and equip people to take charge of their health and well-being. In this approach, trained peers help veterans explore their sense of mission and purpose, and well-being programs focus on skill-building and support for self-care. These elements, in addition to person-centered, holistic clinical care, create the Whole Health delivery system. VHA facilities are shifting from a system designed around points of clinical care (in which the primary focus is on disease management) to one that is based in a partnership across time (in which the primary focus is on whole health). Clinical encounters are essential but not sufficient. This health system is designed to focus not only on treatment, but also on self-empowerment, self-healing, and self-care.

This radical redesign is built on decades of VHA work enhancing its integrative approaches with innovations such as Patient-Aligned Care Teams, Primary Care Mental Health Integration, peer-to-peer support, group access to mental health services, and the increasing use of complementary medicine approaches. These changes laid the groundwork for the kind of radical redesign now underway in the VHA and that is needed in all national health care delivery systems.

In 2011, the VHA established an Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation to further redefine health care delivery and to oversee this unique approach. Whole Health has begun rapid deployment across the entire VHA system, starting with 18 VHA medical centers in 2018 and with a planned expansion to all VHA medical centers by the end of 2022. System-wide implementation will require an estimated $556 million over 5 years.

When fully implemented, operating costs for this shift are projected to represent 1% of the VHA annual budget. This implementation will involve hiring almost 6,400 new staff, the majority for positions that did not previously exist in the VHA, including health coaches and peer health partners, nutritionists, acupuncturists, and yoga instructors. Whole Health is building access through group visits, peer-to-peer support, and the development of Personal Health Plans for every veteran — something everyone in the country could use. In addition, new payment codes have been created, allowing providers to capture and cover their time and efforts using relative value units (RVUs) and to track productivity.

Will Whole Health help to cure what ails health care? Current models suggest that it will. With improvement in health outcomes, there will be a reduction in the need for existing clinical and biomedical services. These models predict increased access and more proactive population health management. With the addition of these new Whole Health services, we project a 24.5% increase in access when fully deployed — without the addition of a single hospital bed or medical specialist. In addition, Whole Health exceeds cost neutrality and is conservatively estimated to return $2.19 for every dollar invested over 6 years.

These returns reflect net cost avoidance and are derived from reductions in the need and demand for existing clinical health services — exactly what the nation needs in order to reduce chronic disease crises and contain costs. The per capita savings or cost avoidance is modest, averaging $535 per veteran annually over the 6-year period. Cumulatively, however, this totals over $6.2 billion in cost avoidance. Given that the Whole Health approach will improve the health of veterans, many of whom are dealing with complex issues such as chronic pain, mental health conditions, and opioid use at a cost of about $1 per day per veteran, it is a financially sound, cost-effective change from the current health care paradigm.

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So, does this change my mind about integrative medicine?

I’m afraid not! And Wayne fails to provide the slightest evidence that his concepts amount to more than wishful thinking (note how he first mentions predictions of cost savings and, in the next paragraph, pretends they are a reality). I simply do not believe that adding a few unproven therapies to our routine healthcare and wrapping the mixture into politically correct platitudes will improve anything. This cannot work from a theoretical standpoint and, crucially, there is no empirical evidence that it does improve anything else but the income stream of charlatans.

If healthcare needs reform, then let’s reform it! Adding cow pie to apple pie is not a solution, it merely spoils what we have already. I am saying this now since 17 years when I published my first comment on integrative medicine. It was entitled Integrative medicine: not a carte blanche for untested nonsense. I do still think that it sums up the issue succinctly.

In 2010, we published an investigation which revealed that the majority of chiropractors and their associations in the English speaking world seem to make therapeutic claims that are not supported by sound evidence, whilst only 28% of chiropractor websites promote lower back pain, which is supported by some evidence. If you go on the Internet (or just study this blog), you can easily see that the advertising of chiropractors is still far from adequate. Recently, a researcher investigated this issue systematically.

The aims of this survey were to determine the frequency, type and nature of at-risk advertising by Australian chiropractors and physiotherapists and whether there is a correlation between professional association membership and advertising guideline compliance. A cross sectional audit examining practitioner advertising was performed on representative samples of Australian chiropractors and physiotherapists. Two auditors examined advertising by 380 physiotherapists and 359 chiropractors for material potentially in breach of the regulatory authorities’ advertising guidelines. The advertising appeared on practitioner websites and linked Facebook pages.

Two-hundred and fifty-eight (72%) audited chiropractors and 231 (61%) audited physiotherapists had breaches of the Advertising Guidelines on their websites and linked Facebook pages. The frequency of breaches by chiropractors was higher. The type and nature of the breaches by chiropractors was potentially more harmful. Membership in a professional association influenced neither the frequency nor the severity of breaches with chiropractors.

The nature (top graph) and the severity (bottom graph) of the false claims.

The author (who is affiliated with the Murdoch University, School of Chiropractic, Murdoch, Australia) concluded that advertising breaches were common in both samples even though regulators and professional associations provide practitioners with explicit information on how to comply with advertising guidelines. Breaches by chiropractors were more numerous and more serious due to their greater potential to lead consumers to make inappropriate and potentially harmful healthcare decisions.

In the discussion section of the paper, the author makes this important comment:

The chiropractic findings are of major concern for two reasons, the first being public safety. Society expects and accepts that professionals advertise their services to assist consumers in making informed choices. To meet societal expectations and legal obligations, advertising must be socially responsible, truthful, appropriate and not misleading or deceptive. Advertising that fails to meet these expectations has the potential to harm. To assist practitioners in fulfilling their obligations, regulators formulated specific rules about advertising of health services to protect the rights of consumers however the data indicate that both professions and chiropractors in particular are not fulfilling their obligations.

The second reason is the high percentage of chiropractors advertising in an unacceptable manner. This raises questions about the profession’s culture and understanding of its obligations under the social contract. It is beyond the scope of this paper to examine this; however, this topic has been the subject of papers by observers both within the profession and external to it over several decades. The consensus is, although the profession has many of the trappings of a mainstream healthcare provider, (legislative recognition, high utilization rates, growing global footprint etc.), it is lacking in other key areas such as civic professionalism and upholding the social contract, both of which are critical components within health care. This research reinforces that position.

You might say that the findings of this investigation apply only to Australia. This is true, of course, but I see so much nonsense in advertisements by chiropractors from any country, that I very much doubt that elsewhere the situation is any better.

The fact that homeopathy is under siege in France, has been discussed before. Now even the international media have picked up the story. Here are some excerpts from an interesting article in Bloomberg:

… The looming brawl gets to the heart of conflicting visions of the state’s involvement in the country’s health system at a time of eroding quality and services. Jobs are also at stake: France is home to Boiron SA, the leader in a global homeopathy market estimated at more than $30 billion.

Boiron’s pills and tinctures have long coexisted with conventional care in France, prescribed by regular doctors and dispensed in almost every pharmacy. Ending public support for the remedies would discredit homeopathy and “send a shock wave” through the industry worldwide, says Boiron’s chief executive officer, Valerie Poinsot. “We’ve been caught in this storm for the past year,” Poinsot says. “Why the hostility, when we contribute to caring for patients?”

Facing a possible backlash, Boiron, based in Lyon, teamed with rivals Weleda AG of Switzerland and closely held family group Lehning to fund a campaign called MyHomeoMyChoice. The push has garnered just over 1 million signatures in an online petition and placed bright-colored posters framed with the recognizable little white pills at pharmacies across the country. “Homeopathy has treated generations of French patients,” says one slogan. “Why deprive future generations?”

For now, French people can walk into any pharmacy and buy a tube of Arnica granules — recommended for shocks and bruises — or roughly a thousand other similar remedies for 1.6 euros ($1.80) with a prescription, because the state health system shoulders about 30% of its cost. In some cases, private insurers cover the remainder and patients pay nothing. That may all soon change. A science agency is wrapping up a study of the relative benefits of alternative medicine that will inform the government’s position: Keep the funding, trim it or scrap it altogether.

If the government cuts funding, Boiron would instantly feel the pain. Poinsot estimates that sales of reimbursed treatments could plummet by 50% in France, where the company brings in almost half its revenue. The company’s stock price has lost about 13% since May 15, when a French newspaper wrote that the panel reviewing homeopathy funding would probably rule against it…

In France, the controversy first erupted last year when the influential Le Figaro newspaper published a letter from a doctor’s collective called FakeMed lambasting alternative medicines. The authors called for ending support of “irrational and dangerous” therapies with “no scientific foundation.” The ensuing debate prompted Health Minister Agnes Buzyn to place funding under review and ask the country’s High Authority for Health to rule on homeopathy’s scientific merits…

David Beausire, a doctor in palliative care at the hospital in Mont de Marsan, in southwest France, is among those who signed the FakeMed letter. Beausire, who sees many terminally ill patients, said he regularly gets people who consult too late because they first explored alternative medicine paths that include homeopathy. “I am not an extremist,” he says. But homeopathy’s reimbursement by the state health system gives it legitimacy when “there’s no proof that it works.”…

Stung by accusations of quackery, Antoine Demonceaux, a doctor and homeopath in Reims, founded a group called SafeMed last November to relay the message that homeopathy has a role to play alongside standard care. He points to the growing number of cancer centers offering consultations to relieve treatment-related symptoms, such as nausea, with homeopathic medicine. Demonceaux says neither he nor his colleagues would ever use homeopathy as a substitute for treatments intended to, say, shrink tumors. “A general practitioner or a specialist who’d claim to be a homeopath and to cure cancer with homeopathy? Just sack him,” he says. “Let’s get real. We are doctors.”

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On the whole, this is a good report which – as far as I can see – describes the situation quite well and provides interesting details. What, however, with this articles and many like it is this: journalists (and others) are too often too lethargic or naïve to check the veracity of the claims that are being made during these disputes. For instance, it would not have been all that difficult to discover that:

  1. Hahnemann called clinicians who used homeopathy alongside conventional treatments ‘traitors‘! He categorically forbade it and denied that such an approach merits the name ‘HOMEOPATHY’. In other words, let’s get real and let’s not pull wool over the eyes of the public (and let’s be honest, it is not possible to practice homeopathy within the boundaries of medical ethics).
  2. Many homeopaths do advocate homeopathy as a sole treatment for cancer and other serious conditions (see for instance here, here and here).

The obvious risk of such lack of critical thinking is that homeopathy might be kept refundable on the basis of big, fat lies. And clearly, that would not be in the interest of anyone (with the exception of family Boiron, of course).

New evidence on adverse effects of manual therapy comes from an unexpected source. Here is the abstract of the paper:

The aim of this study was to investigate if mild or moderate adverse events after manual therapy has an impact on the chance to recover from back/neck pain in men and women. A prospective cohort study of 771 patients with at least three treatment sessions in a randomized controlled trial performed in January 2010 – December 2013. Adverse events within 24 h after each treatment were measured with questionnaires and categorized as: no, mild or moderate, based on bothersomeness. Outcome measure was the perceived recovery at seven weeks and at three months follow-up. Odds Ratios (OR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) were calculated by Logistic regression to investigate the associations between the exposure and outcome, and to test and adjust for potential confounding. There were no statistically significant associations observed between the experience of mild or moderate adverse events and being recovered at the seven weeks follow-up. The only statistically significant association observed at the three months follow-up was for mild adverse events in men with an OR of 2.44, 95% CI: 1.24–4.80 in comparison to men with no adverse events. This study indicates that mild adverse events after manual therapy may be related to a better chance to recover in men.

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In my view this is a rather boring analysis of a bizarre hypothesis … were it not for a result that cropped up almost unintendedly: AE were reported in 81% of women and 66% of men. No severe irreversible AE were reported, but 178 AEs were rated as moderate to severe. As only symptoms within 24 h after the first three treatment session were reported, the true figures might even be larger.

These figures are considerably higher than previously reported. Our own systematic review of prospective studies suggested that AEs occur in approximately half of all patients receiving spinal manipulation. It follows, I think, that we have to discuss the question about risk versus benefit of manual treatments (such as spinal manipulations) even more critically than before.

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