The increasing demand for fertility treatments has led to the rise of private clinics offering so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) treatments. Even King Charles has recently joined in with this situalion. One of the most frequently offered SCAM infertility treatment is acupuncture. However, there is no good evidence to support the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating infertility.
This study evaluated the scope of information provided by SCAM fertility clinics in the UK. A content analysis was conducted on 200 websites of SCAM fertility clinics in the UK that offer acupuncture as a treatment for infertility. Of the 48 clinics that met the eligibility criteria, the majority of the websites did not provide sufficient information on:
- the efficacy,
- the risks,
- the success rates
of acupuncture for infertility.
The authors concluded that this situation has the potential to infringe on patient autonomy, provide false hope and reduce the chances of pregnancy ever being achieved as fertility declines during the time course of ineffective acupuncture treatment.
The authors are keen to point out that their investigation has certain limitations. The study only analysed the information provided on the clinics’ websites and did not assess the quality of the treatment provided by the clinics.
Therefore, the study’s fndings cannot be generalized to the quality of the acupuncture treatment provided by the clinics.
Nonetheless the paper touches on very important issues: far too many health clinics that offer SCAM for this or that indication operate way outside the ethically (and legally) acceptable norm. They advertise their services without making it clear that they are neither effective nor safe. Desperate consumers thus fall for their promises. In the case of infertility, this might result merely in frustration and loss of (often substantial amounts of) money. In the case of serious disease, such as cancer, this often results in premature death.
It is time, I think, that this entire sector is regualted in a way that it does not endanger the well-being, health, or life of consumers.