Monthly Archives: April 2022
The Anglo-European College of Chiropractic (AECC) has been promoting pediatric chiropractic for some time, and I have posted about the subject before (see, for instance, here). Now the AECC has gone one decisive step further. On the website, the AECC announced an MSc ‘Musculoskeletal Paediatric Health‘:
The MSc Musculoskeletal Paediatric Health degree is designed to develop your knowledge and skills in the safe and competent care of children of all ages. Our part-time, distance-based course blends live online classes with ready to use resources through our virtual learning environment. In addition, you will have the opportunity to observe in the AECC University College clinical services at our Bournemouth campus. The course covers topics in paediatric musculoskeletal practice with specific units on paediatric development, paediatric musculoskeletal examination, paediatric musculoskeletal interventions, and paediatric musculoskeletal management. You will address issues such as risk factors and public health, including breastfeeding, supine sleep in infancy, physical activity in children and conditions affecting the musculoskeletal health of children from birth. The paediatric specific topics are completed by other optional units such as professional development, evidence-based practice, and leadership and inter-professional collaboration. In the dissertation unit you will conduct a study relevant to musculoskeletal paediatric health.
Your learning will happen through a mix of live and recorded lectures, access to online reading materials, and access to the literature through our learning services. You will also engage with the contents taught through guided activities with your peers and staff. Clinical paediatric experience is recommended to fully engage with the course. For students with limited access to a suitable clinical environment to support their studies, or for student who wants to add to their clinical experience, we are able to offer a limited number of opportunities to observe and work alongside our clinical educators within the AECC University College clinical services. Assessments are tailor made to each unit and may include a variety of methods such as critical reviews, reflective accounts, portfolios and in the last year a research dissertation.
The AECC emphasizes its commitment to being a leading higher education institution in healthcare disciplines, nationally and internationally recognised for quality and excellence. Therefore, it seems only fair to have another look at the science behind pediatric chiropractic. Specifically, is there any good science to show that would justify a Master of Science in ‘Musculoskeletal Paediatric Health’?
So, let’s have a look and see whether there are any good review articles supporting such a degree. Here is what I found with several Medline searches (date of the review on chiropractic for any pediatric conditions, followed by its conclusion + link [so that the reader can look up the evidence]):
I am unable to find convincing evidence for any of the above-named conditions.
Previous research has shown that professional chiropractic organisations ‘make claims for the clinical art of chiropractic that are not currently available scientific evidence…’. The claim to effectively treat otitis seems to
be one of them. It is time now, I think, that chiropractors either produce the evidence or abandon the claim.
The … evidence is neither complete nor, in my view, “substantial.”
Although the major reason for pediatric patients to attend a chiropractor is spinal pain, no adequate studies have been performed in this area. It is time for the chiropractic profession to take responsibility and systematically investigate the efficiency of joint manipulation of problems relating to the developing musculoskeletal system.
Some small benefits were found, but whether these are meaningful to parents remains unclear as does the mechanisms of action. Manual therapy appears relatively safe.
What seems to emerge is rather disappointing:
- There are no really new reviews.
- Most of the existing reviews are not on musculoskeletal conditions.
- All of the reviews cast considerable doubt on the notion that chiropractors should go anywhere near children.
But perhaps I was too ambitious. Perhaps there are some new rigorous clinical trials of chiropractic for musculoskeletal conditions. A few further searches found this (again year and conclusion):
We found that children with long duration of spinal pain or co-occurring musculoskeletal pain prior to inclusion as well as low quality of life at baseline tended to benefit from manipulative therapy over non-manipulative therapy, whereas the opposite was seen for children reporting high intensity of pain. However, most results were statistically insignificant.
Adding manipulative therapy to other conservative care in school children with spinal pain did not result in fewer recurrent episodes. The choice of treatment-if any-for spinal pain in children therefore relies on personal preferences, and could include conservative care with and without manipulative therapy. Participants in this trial may differ from a normal care-seeking population.
I might have missed one or two trials because I only conducted rather ‘rough and ready’ searches, but even if I did: would this amount to convincing evidence? Would it be good science?
No! and No!
So, why does the AECC offer a Master of Science in ‘Musculoskeletal Paediatric Health’?
It wouldn’t have something to do with the notion that it is good for business?
Or perhaps they just want to give science a bad name?
Anyone who has been following this blog will have noticed that we have our very own ‘resident chiro’ who comments every single time I post about spinal manipulation/chiropractic/back pain. He uses (mostly?) the pseudonym ‘DC’. Recently, DC explained why he is such an avid poster of comments:
” I read and occasionally comment on this blog for two main reasons. 1. In my opinion Ernst doesn’t do a balance reporting on the papers his shares regarding spinal manipulation and chiropractic. Thus, I offer additional insight, a more balanced perspective for the readers. 2. There are a couple of skeptics who occasionally post that do a good job of analyzing papers or topics and they do so in a respectful manner. I enjoy reading their comments. I will add a third. 3. Ernst, from what I can tell, doesn’t censor people just because they have a different view.”
So, DC aims at offering additional insights and a more balanced perspective. That would certainly be laudable and welcome. Yet, over the years, I have gained a somewhat different impression. Almost invariably, my posts on the named subjects cast doubt on the notion that chiropractic generates more good than harm. This, of course, cannot be to the liking of chiropractors, who therefore try to undermine me and my arguments. In a way, that is fair enough.
DC, however, seems to have long pursued a very specific and slightly different strategy. He systematically attempts to distract from the evidence and arguments I present. He does that by throwing in the odd red herring or by deviating from the subject in some other way. Thus he hopes, I assume, to distract from the point that chiropractic fails to generate more good than harm. In other words, DC is a tireless (and often tiresome) fighter for the chiropractic cause and reputation.
To check whether my impression is correct, I went through the last 10 blogs on spinal manipulation/ chiropractic/ back pain. Here are my findings (first the title of and link to the blog in question, followed by one of DC’s originals distractions)
Chiropractic: “a safe form of treatment”? (edzardernst.com)
“It appears conventional medicine has a greater number of AE. This is not surprising.”
real doctors treat really sick patients
So the probability of an AE increases based upon how sick a patient is? Is there research that supports that?
Malpractice Litigation Involving Chiropractic Spinal Manipulation (edzardernst.com)
It would be interesting to know more about these 38 cases that weren’t included since that’s almost half of the 86 cases. What percentage of those cases involved SMT by a non chiropractor?
“Query of the VerdictSearch online legal database for “chiropractor” OR “chiropractic” OR “spinal manipulation” within the 22,566 listed cases classified as “medical malpractice” yielded 86 cases. Of these, 48 cases met the inclusion criteria by featuring a chiropractic practitioner as the primary defendant.”
Lumbar disc herniation treated with SCAM: 10-year results of an observational study (edzardernst.com)
there are three basic types of disc herniation
Some add a forth which are:
where the first two are considered incomplete (contained) and the last two are called complete (non-contained) but they are all classified as a disc herniation.
Multidisciplinary versus chiropractic care for low back pain (edzardernst.com)
Elaborate on what you think was my mistake regarding clinical significance.
Which treatments are best for acute and subacute mechanical non-specific low back pain? A systematic review with network meta-analysis (edzardernst.com)
An evidence based approach has three legs. If you wish to focus on the research leg, what does the research reveal regarding maintenance care and LBP? Have you even looked into it?
Meditation for Chronic Low Back Pain Management? (edzardernst.com)
CRITERIA in assessing the credibility of subgroup analysis.
Acute Subdural Hemorrhage Following Cervical Chiropractic Manipulation (edzardernst.com)
sigh, my use of the word require was pointing out that different problems require different solutions.
You confuse a lack of concern with my critical analysis of what some use as evidence of serious harm.
I have only used one other identifier on this blog. Some objected to my use of the word Dr in that identifier so I changed it to DC as it wasn’t worth my time to argue with them (which of course DC still refers to Doctor but it seemed to appease them).
In healthcare and particularly in manual therapy we look at increasing comfort and function because most come to us because…wait for it…a loss of comfort and function.
Yes, there is the potential to cause harm, I have never said otherwise. Most case reports suggest that serious harm is due to an improper history and exam (although other reasons may exist such as improper technique). Thus, most cases appear to be preventable with a proper history, exam and technique. That, is a different problem that, yes, requires a different solution.
So yes, spinal manipulation isn’t “required” anymore than physical therapy, NSAIDs, etc for most cases. The question is: does the intervention increase comfort and function over doing nothing and is that justified due the potential risk of harm….benefit vs risk.
Now, i shall excuse my self to prepare for a research presentation that deals with a possible new contraindication to cSMT (because I have a lack of concern, right?)
Double-sided vertebral artery dissection in a 33-year-old man. The chiropractor is not guilty? (edzardernst.com)
Hmmm, let’s change that a bit…
The best approach is to consider the totality of the available evidence. By doing this, one cannot exclude the possibility that NSAIDs and opioids cause serious adverse effects. If that is so, we must abide by the precautionary principle which tells us to use other treatments that seem safer and at least as effective.
So based upon the totality of the available evidence, which is safer and at least as effective: cervical spinal manipulation vs NSAIDs/opioids?
Chiropractic spinal manipulation is not safe! (edzardernst.com)
getting the patient to sign something describing the risks. This is apparently something chiropractors don’t do before a neck manipulation.
Vertebral artery dissection in a pregnant woman after cervical spine manipulation (edzardernst.com)
Most case reports fail on one of two criteria, sometimes both.
1. No clear record of why the patient sought chiropractic care (symptoms that may indicate a VAD in progress or not)
2. Eliminating any other possible causes of the VAD especially in the week prior to SMT.
I would have to search but I recall a case report of a woman presenting for maintenance care (no head or neck symptoms at the time) and after cSMT was dx with a VAD. Asymptomatic VADs are very rare thus there is a high probability that cSMT induced the VAD in that case, IMO.
Although not published I had a dialogue with a MD where a patient underwent a MRI, had cSMT the next day and developed new symptoms thus another MRI was shortly done and was dx with a VAD. I encouraged her to publish the case but apparently she did not.
There was a paper published that looked at the quality of these case reports, most are poor.
I might be mistaken but DC systematically tries to distract from the fact that chiropractic does not generate more good than harm and that there is a continuous flow of evidence suggesting it does, in fact, the exact opposite. He (I presume he is male) might not even do this consciously in which case it would suggest to me that he is full of quasi-religious zeal and unable to think critically about his own profession and creeds.
Reviewing the material above, I also realized that, by engaging with DC (and other zealots of this type), it is I who often gives him the opportunity to play his game. Therefore, I will from now on try harder to stick to my own rules that say:
- Comments must be on-topic.
- I will not post comments which are overtly nonsensical.
- I will not normally enter into discussions with people who do not disclose their full identity.
A press release informs us that the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Government of India recently signed an agreement to establish the ‘WHO Global Centre for Traditional Medicine’. This global knowledge centre for traditional medicine, supported by an investment of USD 250 million from the Government of India, aims to harness the potential of traditional medicine from across the world through modern science and technology to improve the health of people and the planet.
“For many millions of people around the world, traditional medicine is the first port of call to treat many diseases,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “Ensuring all people have access to safe and effective treatment is an essential part of WHO’s mission, and this new center will help to harness the power of science to strengthen the evidence base for traditional medicine. I’m grateful to the Government of India for its support, and we look forward to making it a success.”
The term traditional medicine describes the total sum of the knowledge, skills and practices indigenous and different cultures have used over time to maintain health and prevent, diagnose and treat physical and mental illness. Its reach encompasses ancient practices such as acupuncture, ayurvedic medicine and herbal mixtures as well as modern medicines.
“It is heartening to learn about the signing of the Host Country Agreement for the establishment of Global Centre for Traditional Medicine (GCTM). The agreement between Ministry of Ayush and World Health Organization (WHO) to establish the WHO-GCTM at Jamnagar, Gujarat, is a commendable initiative,” said Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India. “Through various initiatives, our government has been tireless in its endeavour to make preventive and curative healthcare, affordable and accessible to all. May the global centre at Jamnagar help in providing the best healthcare solutions to the world.”
The new WHO centre will concentrate on building a solid evidence base for policies and standards on traditional medicine practices and products and help countries integrate it as appropriate into their health systems and regulate its quality and safety for optimal and sustainable impact.
The new centre focuses on four main strategic areas: evidence and learning; data and analytics; sustainability and equity; and innovation and technology to optimize the contribution of traditional medicine to global health and sustainable development.
The onsite launch of the new WHO global centre for traditional medicine in Jamnagar, Gujarat, India will take place on April 21, 2022.
Of course, one must wait and see who will direct the unit and what work the new centre produces. But I cannot help feeling a little anxious. The press release is full of hot air and platitudes and the track record of the Indian Ministry of Ayush is quite frankly abominable. Here are a few of my previous posts that, I think, justify this statement:
- Mucormycosis (black fungus): is the Indian AYUSH ministry trying to decimate the population?
- The ‘AYUSH COVID-19 Helpline’: have they gone bonkers?
- Individualized Homeopathic Medicines for Cutaneous Warts – the dishonesty of homeopaths continues
- Ever wondered what a homeopathic egg on the face looks like?
- An RCT on the efficacy of ayurvedic treatment on asymptomatic COVID-19 patients
- Has homeopathy caused the dramatic decline of COVID-19 cases in India?
- Eight new products aimed at mitigating COVID-19. But do they really work?
- Siddha doctors have joined those claiming to have found a cure for COVID-19
- COVID-19: homeopathy gone berserk in Mumbai
- Brazil and India collaborate in the promotion of quackery
- Hard to believe: dangerous GOVERNMENTAL advice regarding SCAM for the corona virus pandemic
WATCH THIS SPACE!
This randomized, double-blind, two-armed, parallel, single-center, placebo-controlled study investigated the effectiveness and safety of the homeopathic medicine, Natrum muriaticum LM2, for mild cases of COVID-19.
Participants aged > 18 years, with influenza-like symptoms and a positive COVID test were recruited and randomized (1:1) into two groups that received different treatments during a period of at-home isolation. One group received the homeopathic medicine Natrum muriaticum, prepared with the second degree of the fifty-millesimal dynamization (LM2; Natrum muriaticum LM2), while the other group received a placebo.
The primary endpoint was time until recovery from COVID-19 influenza-like symptoms. Secondary measures included a survival analysis of the number and severity of COVID-19 symptoms (influenza-like symptoms plus anosmia and ageusia) from a symptom grading scale that was informed by the participant, hospital admissions, and adverse events. Kaplan-Meier curves were used to estimate time-to-event (survival) measures.
Data from 86 participants were analyzed (homeopathy, n = 42; placebo, n = 44). There was no difference in time to recovery between the two groups (homeopathy, n = 41; placebo, n = 41; P = 0.56), nor in a sub-group that had at least 5 moderate to severe influenza-like symptoms at the beginning of monitoring (homeopathy, n = 15; placebo, n = 17; P = 0.06). Secondary outcomes indicated that a 50% reduction in symptom score was achieved significantly earlier in the homeopathy group (homeopathy, n = 24; placebo, n = 25; P = 0.04), among the participants with a basal symptom score ≥ 5. Moreover, values of restricted mean survival time indicated that patients receiving homeopathy might have improved 0.9 days faster during the first five days of follow-up (P = 0.022). Hospitalization rates were 2.4% in the homeopathy group and 6.8% in the placebo group (P = 0.62). Participants reported 3 adverse events in the homeopathy group and 6 in the placebo group.
The authors concluded that the results showed that Natrum muriaticum LM2 was safe to use for COVID-19, but there was no statistically significant difference in the primary endpoints of Natrum muriaticum LM2 and placebo for mild COVID-19 cases. Although some secondary measures do not support the null hypothesis, the wide confidence intervals suggest that further studies with larger sample sizes and more symptomatic participants are needed to test the effectiveness of homeopathic Natrum muriaticum LM2 for COVID-19.
Homeopaths will probably claim that the trial was negative because homeopathic treatments must be individualized (true only for one school of homeopathy). More rational thinkers might point out that the study was woefully underpowered and therefore the positive trends seen in some of the subgroups are nothing other than background noise. Others again might notice that, due to the small sample size, the randomization was not successful in generating comparable groups: the placebo group was older, had more pre-existing conditions, and took more conventional medication than the homeopathy group. And they might point out that these differences could easily explain some of the findings.
Whichever way we turn it, the bottom line is simple:
Homeopathy is ineffective for COVID infections.
Today is the start of chiropractic awareness week 2022. On this occasion the BCA states most categorically: First and foremost, chiropractic is a statutorily regulated healthcare profession, supported by evidence, which offers a safe form of treatment for patients with a range of conditions. Here I am tempted to cite my friend Simon Singh:
THEY HAPPILY PROMOTE BOGUS TREATMENTS
I am, of course, particularly impressed by the BCA’s assurance of safety. In my view, the safety issue needs to be addressed more urgently than any other in the realm of chiropractic. So, to make a meaningful contribution to the current chiropractic awareness week, I conducted a few Medline searches to identify all publications of 2022 on chiropractic/spinal manipulation risks.
This is what I found:
Objective: Patients can be at risk of carotid artery dissection and ischemic stroke after cervical chiropractic manipulation. However, such risks are rarely reported and raising awareness can increase the safety of chiropractic manipulations.
Case report: We present two middle-aged patients with carotid artery dissection leading to ischemic stroke after receiving chiropractic manipulation in Foshan, Guangdong Province, China. Both patients had new-onset pain in their necks after receiving chiropractic manipulations. Excess physical force during chiropractic manipulation may present a risk to patients. Patient was administered with recombinant tissue plasminogen activator after radiological diagnoses. They were prescribed 100 mg and clopidogrel 75 mg daily for 3 months as dual antiplatelet therapy. There were no complications over the follow-up period.
Conclusion: These cases suggest that dissection of the carotid artery can occur as the result of chiropractic manipulations. Patients should be diagnosed and treated early to achieve positive outcomes. The safety of chiropractic manipulations should be increased by raising awareness about the potential risks.
Spontaneous intracranial hypotension (SIH) still remains an underdiagnosed etiology of new-onset headache. Important risk factors include chiropractic manipulation (CM). We present a case of a 36-year-old Filipino woman who presented with severe bifrontal and postural headache associated with dizziness, vomiting, and doubling of vision. A cranial computed tomography scan was done which showed an acute subdural hematoma (SDH) at the interhemispheric area. Pain medications were given which afforded minimal relief. On history, the headaches occurred 2 weeks after cervical CM. Cranial and cervical magnetic resonance imaging revealed findings supportive of intracranial hypotension and neck trauma, respectively. The patient improved with conservative management. We found 12 articles on SIH and CM after a systematic review of literature. Eleven patients (90.9%) initially presented with orthostatic headache. Eight patients (66.7%) were initially treated conservatively but only 5 (62.5%) had complete recovery. Recovery was achieved within 14 days from start of supportive therapy. Among the 3 patients who failed conservative treatment, 2 underwent non-directed epidural blood patch and one required neurosurgical intervention. This report highlights that a thorough history is warranted in patients with new onset headache. A history of CM must be actively sought. The limited evidence from the case reports showed that patients with SIH and SDH but with normal neurologic examination and minor spinal pathology can be managed conservatively for less than 2 weeks. This review showed that conservative treatment in a closely monitored environment may be an appropriate first line treatment.
Introduction: Cranio-cervical artery dissection (CeAD) is a common cause of cerebrovascular events in young subjects with no clear treatment strategy established. We evaluated the incidence of major adverse cardiovascular events (MACE) in CeAD patients treated with and without stent placement.
Methods: COMParative effectiveness of treatment options in cervical Artery diSSection (COMPASS) is a single high-volume center observational, retrospective longitudinal registry that enrolled consecutive CeAD patients over a 2-year period. Patients were ≥ 18 years of age with confirmed extra- or intracranial CeAD on imaging. Enrolled participants were followed for 1 year evaluating MACE as the primary endpoint.
Results: One-hundred ten patients were enrolled (age 53 ± 15.9, 56% Caucasian, and 50% male, BMI 28.9 ± 9.2). Grade I, II, III, and IV blunt vascular injury was noted in 16%, 33%, 19%, and 32%, respectively. Predisposing factors were noted in the majority (78%), including sneezing, carrying heavy load, chiropractic manipulation. Stent was placed in 10 (10%) subjects (extracranial carotid n = 9; intracranial carotid n = 1; extracranial vertebral n = 1) at the physician’s discretion along with medical management. Reasons for stent placement were early development of high-grade stenosis or expanding pseudoaneurysm. Stented patients experienced no procedural or in-hospital complications and no MACE between discharge and 1 year follow up. CeAD patients treated with medical management only had 14% MACE at 1 year.
Conclusion: In this single high-volume center cohort of CeAD patients, stenting was found to be beneficial, particularly with development of high-grade stenosis or expanding pseudoaneurysm. These results warrant confirmation by a randomized clinical trial.
Background: Manipulation and mobilisation for low back pain are presented in an evidence-based manner with regard to mechanisms of action, indications, efficacy, cost-effectiveness ratio, user criteria and adverse effects. Terms such as non-specific or specific are replaced by the introduction of “entities” related to possible different low back pain forms.
Efficacy: MM is effective for acute and chronic low back pain in terms of pain relief, recovery of function and relapse prevention. It is equally effective but less risky compared to other recommended therapies. MM can be used alone in acute cases and not only in the case of chronic low back pain where it is always and necessarily part of a multimodal therapy programme, especially in combination with activating measures. The users of MM should exclusively be physician specialists trained according to the criteria of the German Medical Association (Bundesärztekammer) with an additional competence in manual medicine or appropriately trained certified therapists. The application of MM follows all rules of Good Clinical Practice.
Adverse effects: Significant adverse effects of MM for low back pain are reported in the international literature with a frequency of 1 per 50,000 to 1 per 3.7 million applications, i.e. MM for low back pain is practically risk-free and safe if performed according to the rules of the European Training Requirements of the UEMS.
Studies have reported that mild adverse events (AEs) are common after manual therapy and that there is a risk of serious injury. We aimed to assess the safety of Chuna manipulation therapy (CMT), a traditional manual Korean therapy, by analysing AEs in patients who underwent this treatment. Patients who received at least one session of CMT between December 2009 and March 2019 at 14 Korean medicine hospitals were included. Electronic patient charts and internal audit data obtained from situation report logs were retrospectively analysed. All data were reviewed by two researchers. The inter-rater agreement was assessed using the Cohen’s kappa coefficient, and reliability analysis among hospitals was assessed using Cronbach’s Alpha coefficient. In total, 2,682,258 CMT procedures were performed in 289,953 patients during the study period. There were 50 AEs, including worsened pain (n = 29), rib fracture (n = 11), falls during treatment (n = 6), chest pain (n = 2), dizziness (n = 1), and unpleasant feeling (n = 1). The incidence of mild to moderate AEs was 1.83 (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.36-2.39) per 100,000 treatment sessions, and that of severe AEs was 0.04 (95% CI 0.00-0.16) per 100,000 treatment sessions. Thus, AEs of any level of severity were very rare after CMT. Moreover, there were no instances of carotid artery dissection or spinal cord injury, which are the most severe AEs associated with manual therapy in other countries.
This is not too bad after all!
Five papers are clearly better than nothing.
What conclusions might be drawn from my mini-review?
I think it might be safe to say:
- There is not much but at least some research going on in this area.
- The risks of chiropractic/spinal manipulation are real and are being recognized.
- BUT NOT BY CHIROPRACTORS! The most remarkable feature of the 5 papers, I think, is that none originates from a chiropractic team.
Thus, allow me to make a suggestion to chiropractors worldwide: Instead of continuing with HAPPILY PROMOTING BOGUS TREATMENTS, what about using the ‘chiropractic awareness week’ to raise awareness of the urgent necessity to research the safety of your treatments?
This paper is an evaluation of the relationship between chiropractic spinal manipulation and medical malpractice. The legal database VerdictSearch was queried using the terms “chiropractor” OR “spinal manipulation” under the classification of “Medical Malpractice” between 1988 and 2018. Cases with chiropractors as defendants were identified. Relevant medicolegal characteristics were obtained, including legal outcome (plaintiff/defense verdict, settlement), payment amount, nature of plaintiff claim, and type and location of the alleged injury.
Forty-eight cases involving chiropractic management in the US were reported. Of these, 93.8% (n = 45) featured allegations involving spinal manipulation. The defense (practitioner) was victorious in 70.8% (n = 34) of cases, with a plaintiff (patient) victory in 20.8% (n = 10) (mean payment $658,487 ± $697,045) and settlement in 8.3% (n = 4) (mean payment $596,667 ± $402,534).
Over-aggressive manipulation was the most frequent allegation (33.3%; 16 cases). A majority of cases alleged neurological injury of the spine as the reason for litigation (66.7%, 32 cases) with 87.5% (28/32) requiring surgery. C5-C6 disc herniation was the most frequently alleged injury (32.4%, 11/34, 83.3% requiring surgery) followed by C6-C7 herniation (26.5%, 9/34, 88.9% requiring surgery). Claims also alleged 7 cases of stroke (14.6%) and 2 rib fractures (4.2%) from manipulation therapy.
The authors concluded that litigation claims following chiropractic care predominately alleged neurological injury with consequent surgical management. Plaintiffs primarily alleged overaggressive treatment, though a majority of trials ended in defensive verdicts. Ongoing analysis of malpractice provides a unique lens through which to view this complicated topic.
The fact that the majority of trials ended in defensive verdicts does not surprise me. I once served as an expert witness in a trial against a UK chiropractor. Therefore, I know how difficult it is to demonstrate that the chiropractic intervention – and not anything else – caused the problem. Even cases that seem medically clear-cut, often allow reasonable doubt vis a vis the law.
Apologists will be quick and keen to point out that, in the US, there are many more successful cases brought against real doctors (healthcare professionals who have studied medicine). They are, of course, correct. But, at the same time, they miss the point. Real doctors treat real diseases where the outcomes are sadly often not as hoped. Litigation is then common, particularly in a litigious society like the US. Chiropractors predominantly treat symptoms like back troubles that are essentially benign. To create a fair comparison of litigations against doctors and chiros, one would therefore need to account for the type and severity of the conditions. Such a comparison has – to the best of my knowledge – not been done.
What has been done, however – and I did previously report about it – are comparisons between chiros, osteos, and physios (which seems to be a more level playing field). They show that complaints against chiros top the bill.
The pandemic has shown how difficult it can be to pass laws stopping healthcare professionals from giving unsound medical advice has proved challenging. The right to freedom of speech regularly conflicts with the duty to protect the public. How can a government best sail between Scylla and Charybdis? JAMA has just published an interesting paper addressing these issues. Here is an excerpt from the article that might stimulate some discussion:
The government can take several actions, including:
- Imposing sanctions on COVID-19–related practices by licensed professionals that flout substantive laws in connection with providing medical services, even if those medical services include speech. This includes physicians failing to comply with COVID-19–related public health laws applicable to medical offices and health facilities, such as mask wearing, social distancing, and restrictions on elective procedures.
- Sanctioning recommendations by professionals that patients take illegal medications or controlled substances without following legally required procedures. The government can also sanction the marketing by others of prescription medications for unapproved indications. However, “off-label” prescribing by physicians (eg, for hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin) remains lawful as long as a medication is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for any indication and no specific legal conditions on use are in effect.
- Enforcing tort law actions (eg, malpractice, lack of informed consent) in cases of alleged patient injury that result from recommending a potentially dangerous treatment or failing to recommend a necessary treatment.
- Imposing sanctions on individualized medical advice by unlicensed individuals or organizations if giving that advice constitutes the unlawful practice of medicine.
In addition, the government probably can:
- Impose sanctions for false or misleading information offered to obtain a financial or personal benefit, particularly if giving the information constitutes fraud under applicable law. This would encompass physicians who knowingly spread false information to create celebrity or attract patients.
- Threaten disciplinary action by licensing boards against health professionals whose speech to patients conveys incorrect science or substandard medicine.
- Specify the information that may and may not be imparted by private organizations and professionals as part of specific clinical services paid for by government, such as special programs for COVID-19 testing or treatment.
- Reject legal challenges to, and enforce through generally applicable contract or employment laws, any restrictions private health care organizations place on speech by affiliated health professionals, particularly in the absence of special laws conferring “conscience” protections. This would include medical staff membership and privileges, hospital or other employment agreements, and insurance network participation.
- Enforce restrictions on speech adopted by private professional or self-regulatory organizations if the consequences for violations are limited to revoking organizational membership or accreditation.
However, the government probably cannot:
- Compel or limit health professional speech not made in connection with patient care, even if the speech is false or misleading, regardless of its alleged effect on public trust in health professions.
- Sanction speech to the general public rather than to patients, whether or not by health professionals, especially if conveyed with a disclaimer that the speech is “not intended as medical advice.”
- Sanction speech by health professionals to patients conveying political views or skepticism of government policy.
- Enforce restrictions involving information by public universities and public hospitals that legislatures, regulatory agencies, and professional licensing boards would not be constitutionally permitted to impose directly.
- Adopt restrictions on information related to overall clinical services funded by large government health programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid.
The article was obviously written with MDs in mind and applies only to US law. As we have seen in previous posts and comments, the debate is, however, wider. We should, I think, also have it in relation to practitioners of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) and medical ethics. Moreover, it should go beyond advice about COVID and be extended to any medical advice given by any type of healthcare practitioner.