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

So-called alternative medicine (SCAM) could easily be described as a business that exists mainly because it profits from the flaws of conventional medicine. I know, this is not a good definition, and I don’t want to suggest it as one, but I think it highlights an important aspect of SCAM.

Let me explain.

If we ask ourselves why consumers feel attracted to SCAM, we can identify a range of reasons, and several of them relate to the weaknesses of conventional medicine as it is practised today. For instance:

  1.  People feel the need to have more time with their clinician in order to discuss their problems more fully. This means that their GP does not offer them sufficient time, empathy and compassion they crave.
  2.  Patients are weary of the side-effects of drugs and prefer treatments that are gentle and safe. This shows that they realise that conventional medicine can cause harm and they hope to avoid this risk.
  3.  Patients find it often hard to accept that their symptoms are ‘nothing to worry about’ and does not require any treatment at all. They prefer to hear that the clinician knows exactly what is wrong and can offer a therapy that puts it right.

Conventional medicine and the professionals who administer it have many flaws. Most doctors have such busy schedules that there is little time for building an empathetic therapeutic relationship with their patients. Thus they often palm them off with a prescription and fail to discuss the risks in sufficient detail. Even worse, they sometimes prescribe drugs in situations where none are needed and where a reassuring discussion would be more helpful. It is too easy to excuse such behaviours with work pressures; such flaws are serious and cannot be brushed under the carpet in this way.

Recently, the flawed behaviour of doctors has become the focus of media attention in the form of

  • opioid over-prescribing
  • over-use of anti-biotics.

In both cases, SCAM providers were quick to offer the solution.

  • Acupuncturists and chiropractors claim that their treatments are sensible alternatives to opioids. Yet, there is no good evidence that either acupuncture or chiropractic have analgesic effects that are remotely comparable to those of opioids. They only are seemingly successful in cases where opioids were not needed in the first place.
  • Homeopaths claim that their remedies can easily replace antibiotics. Yet, there is not a jot of evidence that homeopathics have antibiotic activity. They only are seemingly successful in cases where the antibiotic was not needed in the first place.

In both instances, SCAM is trying to profit from the weaknesses of conventional medicine. In both cases, the offered solutions are clearly bogus. Yet, in both cases, scientifically illiterate politicians are seriously considering the alleged solutions. Few seem to be smart enough to take a step backwards and contemplate the only viable solution to these problems. If doctors over-prescribe, they need to be stopped; and the best way to stop them is to give them adequate support, more time with their patients and adequate recognition of the importance of reassuring and talking to patients when they need it.

To put it differently:

The best way to reduce the use of bogus SCAMs is to make conventional medicine less flawed.

44 Responses to The best way to reduce the use of bogus SCAMs is to make conventional medicine less flawed.

  • Wishful thinking, a small/maybe medium percentage of humans are just gullible and want an easy cure, less money initially until they get snagged in the scam. What some of my friends commit to amazes me, especially the sports charlatans they believe in, titanium necklaces, cupping, Kinesiology sports tape (extremely crazy now/patented by a chiropractor). Some tapes are needed for injuries, not the crazy stuff.
    After much research, most of this voodoo sport beliefs derived from chiropractors delving in Kinesiology. Just smile at them now and say wow, used to argue with them and gave up. They literally patented an impact drill that costs 30 bucks into a 700 dollar chiropractor tool.

  • To some extent I agree with some of these observations. I do not believe that enough time is given over to conversation between clinician and patient, nor do I believe that many clinicians look at the whole picture of presenting health. I retreat from the description that these are faults within conventional medicine. Purely because, there are extrinsic pressures creating theses problems. It’s not medicines fault that the waiting rooms are full and this is the base point for both of these issues.

    Is alternative medicine “filling” these gaps, perhaps, however, I think there is a “beholders share” principle here, the proponents of alternative medicine are quick to defend it by critiquing the conventional, this is especially true of homeopathy. I have now grown used to hearing these people indicate “but often, conventional medicine doesn’t work” as an argument for the authenticity of homeopathy. It is as though, there is an equivalency in science between failed approaches. If I go fishing in a lake with a rod, line hook and no bait and catch nothing I have failed, if my brother stands by the riverbank shouting “come fish, jump into my mouth” and none do, are we equal in our failure? The results are the same for us both. In the process of my approach I may adapt by using bait and succeed. My brother can change the phrase he uses but never succeed. His process is flawed mine is incomplete. A scientifically verifiable approach may not be perfect but it is capable of evolution as it is founded on sound concepts.

    • Funny you said that, conventional medicine is extremely overworked, very hard to get an appointment. You know what else, they don’t advertise in every newspaper of city or nationally. Why do medical doctors not advertise, common sense, they are needed for sickness and needed 24 hrs a day. Why do chiropractors need to advertise, think about it, you ever visit the emergency chiropractor at 11 pm with sick kid?

    • I have been challenging the SS (so-called skeptics) to do homeopathy provings and experience for themselves that homeopathy works. No conversations required. No placebo effect is possible in a proving since the substance being proven is unknown to prover and supervisor.

  • 4. What conventional medicine had to offer didn’t help.

  • When my grandmother had arthritic pain she always claimed that conventional painkillers didn’t work. The GP here tried and failed to provide alternatives but granny was resigned to a life in pain. My niece, a practical girl, painted a fine blue line around the codeine pills with food coloring and told the old lady that they were pills derived from ancient Egyptian recipes deciphered by the British museum and now patented by a dutch company.

    Do you know what these new pills were miraculously effective at controlling the pain, they were the only things that worked. Granny went on to have pain free years.

    Of course this is just an example – perhaps in some cases, conventional medicine has ceased working but in those cases, I am quite sure, so has everything else.

  • “The best way to reduce the use of bogus SCAMs is to make conventional medicine less flawed.”

    HELLOOOOOOO

    We need an action plan…. not talk.

    • Hello.

      Yes, however, you seem to suggest or agree with the position that conventional medicine is flawed. There would seem to be little value in pursing an “action plan” to reduce these flaws until you demonstrate that you are correct. I have indicated that the “flaws” you refer to are those directly linked to external pressures. GP’s and other healthcare providers are unable to spend hours in conversation with patients as there are other patients seeking their attention.

      In the uk there is a minimum consultation time of 15 mins, in reality this is often overspent considerably but is still insufficient. If your plan is to train more doctors I agree, but first I would like to hear you or someone else perhaps elaborate on how these flaws in medicine are being manifested. If you cannot do this logically and rationally then that is the end of the line.

  • – little time
    – palm them off
    – fail to discuss the risks in sufficient detail
    – prescribe drugs in situations where none are needed

    Those aren’t flaws, they’re malpractice.

    • taking them sequentially

      1. is not malpractice. It is the extrinsic factor referred to already.
      2. is malpractice it is not a flaw within medicine. It has no place within a discussion about the effectiveness of medicine. We must assume that regardless of the outcome the process is completed authentically by both conventional and alternative practitioners.

      3. ditto
      4. ditto.

      Every nation has procedures for exploring negligence, we must not confuse negligence with scientific flaws. if you wish to indicate that negligence practice is one of the flaws of modern medical practice then the discussion surrounds fitness to practice proceedings. What is being discussed here is not individuals behavior but the systemic efficiency of the 2 approaches. Do you wish to try again?

      • @Graham

        So Graham, you’re throwing in the towel then ? … there is no solution to making SBM any more reliable ?

        I guess we’re all back to square one then.

        • Looking at the post, your right, the poster talks about conventional medicine but then goes on to speak at length about medical practice. However, the subject of the post is to make convential medicine less flawed to reduce Scam medicine.

          if you look at that – its a bit of a nonsense really, by its nature scam medicine will always be at an advantage with the gullible as it exploits the fact that these guys have endless time to spend on patients as the patients are paying for it hand over fist.

          Conventional medicine does not have that luxury. That is not a fault with medicine. It is a fault with the society in which medicine operates. There should be more doctors.

          Yes, back to square one.

        • No – anything that improves the processes of medicine must be tackled and that includes the social problems of its dispensation and the expectations of those expecting / demanding solutions to their problems.

          However, I do not believe shouting at a busy GP to be better at his job will make the scammers less busy.

          Scammers have a skill for target selection, they can differentiate a mark for their filth and lies much more efficiently than GP’s can detect a disaffected patient. That – if that is the point you make – is a bloody good point.

    • Graham,

      “Do you wish to try again?”

      If I must.

      Edzard said that conventional medicine and the professionals who administer it have many flaws. He then talks about little time, palm them off, fail to discuss the risks in sufficient detail, prescribe drugs in situations where none are needed.

      Those are certainly flaws of individual practitioners, but not flaws of conventional medicine itself. Conventional medicine certainly has flaws (as does everything else) – but those ain’t them. What Edzard listed was bad practice, crappy execution, whatever you want to call it.

      “What is being discussed here is not individuals behavior…”

      Yes, it certainly is. Edzard’s post is about the flaws of some practitioners, not of conventional medicine in and of itself. He should edit the title.

  • You are of course absolutely right Edzard. My own GP has pretty much admitted that the practice has deliberately made getting an appointment difficult in order to manage demand. His rule is “one condition one appointment”, I am not allowed to present with two conditions at the same consultation, and the objective is to get me out of the door as soon as possible. I can’t see how it’s possible for NHS GPs to compete with quacks on care and compassion, when the former spend 10 minutes with a patient and the latter often spend over an hour. Perhaps all GP practices should have `care and compassion’ paramedics who do just that, and triage patients for real medical conditions – but without making up silly stories about what’s wrong with them.

    • yes, Les Rose, I have seen this, it is not helpful, one visit one condition is hardly conducive to good practice, however, again, many patients visit once per year and many visit once per week. GP’s should have some leeway to speak at greater length with some rather than others. In fact, though, they do, they are just often loathe to admit it. Easier to keep the flow of patients by limiting the consultation. As with many things, the relationship is key. However, the purpose of this thread is to tackle the issue presented of combating alternative therapies by tackling the faults in medicine. It is not practical or appropriate to widen the debate into wider medical practice. That would not be to compare apples with apples.

  • “Make conventional medicine (definition please) less flawed” is your headline. Well how about making conventional practitioners less flawed? OK, the following may be slightly ‘off-topic” but the serious malpractice reports of medical doctors, nurses and consultants are too many to ignore. What say everyone?
    ‘A GP who cited Angelina Jolie and Jade Goody to instil fear in his patients about their health has been found guilty of sexually assaulting 23 women.
    Manish Shah preyed on cancer concerns to carry out invasive intimate examinations for his own sexual gratification, the Old Bailey heard. He convinced his victims to have unnecessary checks between May 2009 and June 2013. He was convicted of 25 counts of sexual assault and assault by penetration’. (BBC Report 10th December 2019).
    Just thought I would remind everyone that SCAM practitioners rarely conduct themselves in such a fashion.

    • @Mary Grant

      “Just thought I would remind everyone that SCAM practitioners rarely conduct themselves in such a fashion.”

      Well, I guess that would depend on your definition of “rarely”. Take a look here and here and here and here and here for a (very incomplete) round-up of chiropractors misbehaving themselves. See also here and here for a 2013 example of a “reiki master” jailed for similar crimes to those of Manish Shah. (Ironically, victims of sexual abuse often turn to reiki masters for “healing” from sexual abuse.)

      I suggest to you that, where sex is concerned, the drivers for abuse are not limited by profession and the opportunities afforded by some pseudo-medical professions for sexual abuse are way ahead of most peoples’ everyday lives.

      Perhaps you would care to withdraw your reminder, based on zero evidence, that SCAM practitioners rarely conduct themselves in this fashion?

  • The best way to improve conventional medicine would be to OUTLAW SCAMS. Put such a huge financial/criminal penalty on promoting, perpetrating, or perpetuating ‘alternative’ scams that the only profit left is in conventional treatments.

    • The only way to improve conventional medicine is to improve it.

      Eliminating competition wont improve it.

    • Jamie

      Ummmm Jamie, they have a term for that…. it’s known as Fascism.

      • By that reckoning any state that prohibits certain actions with penalties for transgressions is a fascist state.

      • Hardly fascism, it is appropriate to legislate in some instances, we all know examples of SCAM medicine dissuading people from returning to conventional medicine and the results that follow. There is a duty to protect people from dishonesty.

        the problem is the word “therapy” rather than medicine and the 2 can be confused. If you want to lay in a pool of water with 2 drops of lavender in it to treat your cancer as a therapy then no one can interfere. if that same pool owner advertises cancer medicine / cure etc, he has a problem.

        I will take his pool, his house everything he owns in a civil action and then the Police will arrest him for fraud.

        that kind of problem.

        • @graham

          I’d like to believe that would be acceptable…. save it won’t work well. It becomes to difficult to know where to draw the lines.

          Even the USA ALREADY has laws that do not permit CAM therapies to make cancer claims. That is why Gerson operates in Mexico, they got run out of the USA.
          If I want to prepare my own lavender pool treatment for myself, no problem. But I can’t pay someone to prepare the pool for me ?.. even if the “therapist” makes no cancer cure claims ? Baah !
          That is not regulation, that is Fascism.
          By the same token, I can massage myself, buy I can’t pay someone to massage me ?

          The lines get very difficult to define. We already have laws that restrict CAM therapist from making certain claims. We don’t need a nanny state.

  • There can be no realistic way to change medical practice so that it will suit every user. All that can be done is to take a mature approach to the use of conventional medical services. I disagree with the post in that regard, we cannot a medical system that can afford to spend large consultation time wtih patients, we will always be stuck in a compromise service. However, that should not open the door to criminals.

    That part of the post is entirely correct. Policiticians will always seek to deflect a problem that they cannot solve. The appointment of physician and nurse assistants is an example of that. To a lesser extent the tolerance for alternative medicine is the same direction philosophically.

    There is nothing wrong with modern medicine, its developing, its heading the right way. There is nothing wrong with medical practice, there is just not enough of it. yes there is negligence, however, there is in anything, always will be, mistakes happen and sometimes the bad eggs dont get picked out. On the whole the system works. The gaps in this system should not permit loons. that is not medicines fault.

  • Your continual use of the word scam in capitals is a bit weird…i think you might be feeling a bit threatened by the fact that so many people are taking control of their health and well being and exploring different therapies …its nothing to be frightened of though! perhaps you would do better to embrace change and be open to the fact that different modalities can work side by side to make people feel better…after all, isnt that what its all about?

    • “… that different modalities can work side by side to make people feel better…”
      true!
      but only, if these modalities have been shown to generate more good than harm!
      don’t you think?
      https://www.amazon.co.uk/SCAM-So-Called-Alternative-Medicine-Societas/dp/1845409701/ref=pd_rhf_dp_p_img_2?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=449PJJDXNTY60Y418S5J

      • i agree…however i cant think of any cases where say acupuncture has been shown to do more harm than good? we are living in changing times…scientific paradigms are shifting and we live in a world where concepts such as quantum mechanics which were once considered ‘whacky’ are now firmly mainstream…

        • “i cant think of any cases where say acupuncture has been shown to do more harm than good”
          BUT I CAN
          https://edzardernst.com/2015/09/acupuncture-risks-white-wash-or-denial/
          https://edzardernst.com/2014/10/new-evidence-on-the-risks-of-acupuncture/
          PLUS MANY MORE

          • er…yes of course nothing is perfect…all medicines are flawed…look at chemeo therapy! …the study yiu mention cites cases where acupuncture has gone wrong and yes it happens but thousands of cases also exist where more conventional medicine has been harmful also…

        • shervin
          It’s only a matter of time before someone mentions quantum mechanics.

        • @Shervin

          i cant think of any cases where say acupuncture has been shown to do more harm than good?

          I KNOW many cases, very many.

          Why should we take notice of something someone who we know nothing about, THINKS ??
          If you told us who you are and what you base your thoughts on, then we could perhaps consider your thoughts to be more than baseless fantasy.

          • sorry and you are? doesn’t really matter does it?

            If you really want to know im an acupuncturist and have helped a lot of people with all sorts of issues…it doesn’t work all the time (what medicine does?) and it has its flaws but when it works its beautiful..

            Again, different modalities can work side by side…if I get hit by a bus i want to hear ambulance sirens not wind chimes…but i don’t necessarily want to be put on a course of toxic anti depressants if im suffering from stress and anxiety…nothing wrong in opening your mind to a different way of doing things

          • https://www.atriumacupuncture.com/

            Shervin is a fully qualified and insured acupuncture practitioner with a passion for making people feel better. He is a graduate of the College of Naturopathic Medicine in London and a member of the British Acupuncture Council.

            Shervin is also a qualified naturopath as well as a trained reiki practitioner and occasionally blends elements of these modalities into his acupuncture treatment plans. He currently practices from clinics in Hampstead, Dalston and Brighton.

            “My focus is on the individual and not just the illness, viewing all of the symptoms in relation to each other.”

            Central to Shervin’s treatment philosophy is that we are all unique individuals and our different circumstances and lifestyles affect us in different ways. Rather than taking a ‘one size fits all’ approach to diagnoses and treatment, Shervin takes into account a range of patient specific factors including lifestyle, diet, medical history to produce a tailor made treatment plan which aims to tackle both the symptoms and the underlying root causes of the disorder.

          • @Shervin

            You wrote:

            nothing wrong in opening your mind to a different way of doing things

            Like this or this, perhaps?

          • @Shervin I’m a surgeon with extended experience in emergency and trauma. After decades of clinical work I am now the guy who manages all the complaints and incidents.

            It is my job to know.

            And your excuse for ‘thinking’ there is no problem with acupuncture is?

        • we live in a world where concepts such as quantum mechanics which were once considered ‘whacky’ are now firmly mainstream

          It is 98 years since Einstein won his Nobel Prize for his work on the photoelectric effect (published in 1905) that formed the basis of quantum theory, and most of the rest of the details were worked out in the 1920’s, forming the basis of modern physics. Unless you are a nonagenarian you have been living in this world your entire life.

    • Your continual use of the word scam in capitals is a bit weird

      It is an acronym. Acronyms are usually capitalised.

  • Has anyone said Nazi yet, we had fascism earlier does that count?

  • Doc

    The offical acronym for “so-Called Alternative Medicine”

    sCAM

    https://www.acronymfinder.com/SCAM.html

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