So-called alternative medicine (SCAM) is, as we all know, an umbrella term. Under this umbrella, we find hundreds of different modalities that have little in common with each other. Here I often focus on:
- herbal medicine.
There are uncounted others, and in my recent book, I published critical evaluations 150 of them. But for the moment, let’s keep to the 4 SCAMs listed above.
What strikes me regularly is that many SCAM enthusiasts do seem to appreciate my critical assessments of SCAM; for instance:
- When I point out that the assumptions of homeopathy fly in the face of science, most SCAM enthusiasts agree.
- When I point out that chiropractic spinal manipulations might not be safe, most SCAM enthusiasts agree.
- When I point out that acupuncture is not a panacea, most SCAM enthusiasts agree.
- When I point out that herbal remedies can interact with prescribed drugs, most SCAM enthusiasts agree.
Most but not all!
- Those who find my criticism of homeopathy unfair are the homeopaths and their proponents.
- Those who find my criticism of chiropractic unfair are the chiropractors and their proponents.
- Those who find my criticism of acupuncture unfair are the acupuncturists and their proponents.
- Those who find my criticism of herbal medicine unfair are the herbalists and their proponents.
Hardly ever does a herbalist defend homeopathy’s weird assumptions; rarely does an acupuncturist tell me that I am too harsh with the chiropractors; never have I heard a chiropractor complain that my criticism of acupuncture is unjustified.
But I find it nevertheless curious, because my critical stance is always the same. I do not change it for this or that form of SCAM (I would also not change it for conventional medicine, but I leave it to those who have more specific expertise to do the criticising). I have no axe to grind against any particular SCAM. All I do is point out flaws in their logic, limitations in their studies, gaps in the evidence. All I do is provide my honest interpretation of the evidence.
It really seems to me that everyone appreciates my honesty, until I start being honest with them.
And this is why I find it curious. Homeopaths, chiropractors, acupuncturists, herbalists and all the other types of SCAM practitioners like to be seen on the side of science, evidence, critical thinking and progress. This, I suppose, is good for the (self) image; it might even help the delusion that they are all evidence-based. But as soon as someone applies science, evidence, critical thinking and progress to their very own little niche within SCAM, they stop liking it and start aggressing the critic.
I suppose this is entirely obvious as well?
But it also exposes the double standard that is so deeply ingrained in SCAM.
I was criticised for not referencing this article in a recent post on adverse effects of spinal manipulation. In fact the commentator wrote: Shame on you Prof. Ernst. You get an “E” for effort and I hope you can do better next time. The paper was published in a third-class journal, but I will nevertheless quote the ‘key messages’ from this paper, because they are in many ways remarkable.
- Adverse events from manual therapy are few, mild, and transient. Common AEs include local tenderness, tiredness, and headache. Other moderate and severe adverse events (AEs) are rare, while serious AEs are very rare.
- Serious AEs can include spinal cord injuries with severe neurological consequences and cervical artery dissection (CAD), but the rarity of such events makes the provision of epidemiological evidence challenging.
- Sports-related practice is often time sensitive; thus, the manual therapist needs to be aware of common and rare AEs specifically associated with spinal manipulative therapy (SMT) to fully evaluate the risk-benefit ratio.
The author of this paper is Aleksander Chaibi, PT, DC, PhD who holds several positions in the Norwegian Chiropractors’ Association, and currently holds a position as an expert advisor in the field of biomedical brain research for the Brain Foundation of the Netherlands. I feel that he might benefit from reading some more critical texts on the subject. In fact, I recommend my own 2020 book. Here are a few passages dealing with the safety of SMT:
Relatively minor AEs after SMT are extremely common. Our own systematic review of 2002 found that they occur in approximately half of all patients receiving SMT. A more recent study of 771 Finish patients having chiropractic SMT showed an even higher rate; AEs were reported in 81% of women and 66% of men, and a total of 178 AEs were rated as moderate to severe. Two further studies reported that such AEs occur in 61% and 30% of patients. Local or radiating pain, headache, and tiredness are the most frequent adverse effects…
A 2017 systematic review identified the characteristics of AEs occurring after cervical spinal manipulation or cervical mobilization. A total of 227 cases were found; 66% of them had been treated by chiropractors. Manipulation was reported in 95% of the cases, and neck pain was the most frequent indication for the treatment. Cervical arterial dissection (CAD) was reported in 57%, and 46% had immediate onset symptoms. The authors of this review concluded that there seems to be under-reporting of cases. Further research should focus on a more uniform and complete registration of AEs using standardized terminology…
In 2005, I published a systematic review of ophthalmic AEs after SMT. At the time, there were 14 published case reports. Clinical symptoms and signs included:
- central retinal artery occlusion,
- Wallenberg syndrome,
- loss of vision,
- Horner’s syndrome…
Vascular accidents are the most frequent serious AEs after chiropractic SMT, but they are certainly not the only complications that have been reported. Other AEs include:
- atlantoaxial dislocation,
- cauda equina syndrome,
- cervical radiculopathy,
- diaphragmatic paralysis,
- disrupted fracture healing,
- dural sleeve injury,
- haemorrhagic cysts,
- muscle abscess,
- muscle abscess,
- neurologic compromise,
- oesophageal rupture
- soft tissue trauma,
- spinal cord injury,
- vertebral disc herniation,
- vertebral fracture…
In 2010, I reviewed all the reports of deaths after chiropractic treatments published in the medical literature. My article covered 26 fatalities but it is important to stress that many more might have remained unpublished. The cause usually was a vascular accident involving the dissection of a vertebral artery (see above). The review also makes the following important points:
- … numerous deaths have been associated with chiropractic. Usually high-velocity, short-lever thrusts of the upper spine with rotation are implicated. They are believed to cause vertebral arterial dissection in predisposed individuals which, in turn, can lead to a chain of events including stroke and death. Many chiropractors claim that, because arterial dissection can also occur spontaneously, causality between the chiropractic intervention and arterial dissection is not proven. However, when carefully evaluating the known facts, one does arrive at the conclusion that causality is at least likely. Even if it were merely a remote possibility, the precautionary principle in healthcare would mean that neck manipulations should be considered unsafe until proven otherwise. Moreover, there is no good evidence for assuming that neck manipulation is an effective therapy for any medical condition. Thus, the risk-benefit balance for chiropractic neck manipulation fails to be positive.
- Reliable estimates of the frequency of vascular accidents are prevented by the fact that underreporting is known to be substantial. In a survey of UK neurologists, for instance, under-reporting of serious complications was 100%. Those cases which are published often turn out to be incomplete. Of 40 case reports of serious adverse effects associated with spinal manipulation, nine failed to provide any information about the clinical outcome. Incomplete reporting of outcomes might therefore further increase the true number of fatalities.
- This review is focussed on deaths after chiropractic, yet neck manipulations are, of course, used by other healthcare professionals as well. The reason for this focus is simple: chiropractors are more frequently associated with serious manipulation-related adverse effects than osteopaths, physiotherapists, doctors or other professionals. Of the 40 cases of serious adverse effects mentioned above, 28 can be traced back to a chiropractor and none to a osteopath. A review of complications after spinal manipulations by any type of healthcare professional included three deaths related to osteopaths, nine to medical practitioners, none to a physiotherapist, one to a naturopath and 17 to chiropractors. This article also summarised a total of 265 vascular accidents of which 142 were linked to chiropractors. Another review of complications after neck manipulations published by 1997 included 177 vascular accidents, 32 of which were fatal. The vast majority of these cases were associated with chiropractic and none with physiotherapy. The most obvious explanation for the dominance of chiropractic is that chiropractors routinely employ high-velocity, short-lever thrusts on the upper spine with a rotational element, while the other healthcare professionals use them much more sparingly.
Another review summarised published cases of injuries associated with cervical manipulation in China. A total of 156 cases were found. They included the following problems:
- syncope (45 cases),
- mild spinal cord injury or compression (34 cases),
- nerve root injury (24 cases),
- ineffective treatment/symptom increased (11 cases),
- cervical spine fracture (11 cases),
- dislocation or semi-luxation (6 cases),
- soft tissue injury (3 cases),
- serious accident (22 cases) including paralysis, deaths and cerebrovascular accidents.
Manipulation including rotation was involved in 42% of all cases. In total, 5 patients died…
To sum up … chiropractic SMT can cause a wide range of very serious complications which occasionally can even be fatal. As there is no AE reporting system of such events, we nobody can be sure how frequently they occur.[references from my text can be found in the book]
2020 was certainly a difficult year (please note, I am trying a British understatement here). From the point of view of running this blog, it was sad to lose James Randi (1928 – 2020) who had been the hero of so many sceptics worldwide, and to learn of the passing of Frank Odds (1945-2020) who was a regular, thoughtful commentator here.
Reviewing the topics we tackled, I could mention dozens. But let me pick out just a few themes that I feel might be important.
Homeopathy continued to have a rough time; the German medical profession has finally realised that homeopathy is treatment with placebos and the German Green Party no longer backs homeopathy. In India, the Supreme Court ruled: Homeopathy must not be sold as a cure of Covid-19, and in the US improved labeling on homeopathic products were introduced. To make matters worse I issued A CHALLENGE FOR ALL HOMEOPATHS OF THE WORLD.
On this blog, I like to write about new so-called alternative medicines (SCAMs) that I come accross. Blood letting is not exactly new, but Oh look! Bloodletting is back! Many other ‘innovations’ were equally noteworthy. Here is merely a very short selection of modalities that were new to me:
- Hydrogen-rich water: the new wonder drug?
- Dr. Robin A. Bernhoft and his ‘Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy’ (BHRT)
- The ‘OBERON’: revolutionary invention or dangerous con?
- Qi technology: “scientifically proven to provide EMF Protection” (edzardernst.com)
- ‘DRX9000’ for back pain: a nice little earner for chiropractors and other back pain quacks
- Vibroacoustic Sound Therapy: introducing the ‘healthy vibration of cells’ into the body
- Lakhovsky’s oscillator, the ‘cure all’ that the world forgot
Unquestionably the BIG subject (not just) in SCAM was – is and will be for a while – the pandemic. It prompted quacks of any type to crawl out of the woodwork misleading the public about their offerings. On 24 January, I wrote for the first time about it: Coronavirus epidemic: Why don’t they ask the homeopaths for help? Thereafter, every charlatan seemed to jump on the COVID bandwaggon, even Trump: Trump seems to think that UV might be the answer to the corona-pandemic – could he mean “ultraviolet blood irradiation”? It became difficult to decide who was making a greater fool of themselves, Trump or the homeopaths (Is this the crown of the Corona-idiocy? Nosodes In Prevention And Management Of COVID -19). Few SCAM entrepreneurs (Eight new products aimed at mitigating COVID-19. But do they really work?) were able to resist the opportunity. Snakeoil salesmen were out in force and view COVID-19 as an ‘opportunity’. It is impossible to calculate what impact all this COVID-quackery had, but I fear that many people lost their lives at least in part because of it.
The unavoidable consequence of the pandemic was that the anti-vaxx brigade sensed that their moment had arrived. Ex-doctor Andrew Wakefield: “Better to die as a free man than live as a slave” (and get vaccinated against Covid-19). Again the ‘charlatan in chief’ made his influence felt through the ‘Trump-Effect’ on vaccination attitudes. Unsurprisingly, the UK ‘Society of Homeopath’ turned out to be an anti-vaxx hub that endangers public health. And where there is anti-vaxx, chiropractors are seldom far: Ever wondered why so many chiropractors are profoundly anti-vax?. All this could be just amusing, but sadly it has the potential to cost lives through Vaccine hesitancy due to so-called alternative medicine (SCAM).
I happen to believe that ethics in SCAM are an important, yet much neglected topic. It is easy to understand why this should be so: adhering to the rules of medical ethics would all but put an end to SCAM. This applies to chiropractic (The lack of chiropractic ethics: “valid consent was not obtained in a single case”), to homeopaths (Ethical homeopathy) and to most other SCAM professions. If I had a wish for the next year(s), it would be that funding agencies focus on research into the many ethical problems posed by the current popularity of SCAM.
If I had another wish, it would be that critical thinking becomes a key subject in schools, universities and adult education. Why do so many people make irrational choices? One answer to this question is, because we fail to give this subject the importance it demands. The lack of critical thinking is the reason why we elect leaders who are compulsory lyers, make wrong choices about healthcare, and continue to destroy the planet as though there is no tomorrow. It is high time that we, as a society, realise how fundamentally important critical thinking truly is.
Yes, 2020 was difficult: Brexit, COVID-19, anti-vaxx, etc. But it was not all bad (certainly not for me personally), and there is good reason for hope: the globally malign influence of Trump is about to disappear, and we now have several effective vaccines. Common sense, decency and science might triumph after all.
HEALTHY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!
On this blog we have seen just about every variation of misdemeanors by practitioners of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). Today, I will propose a scale and rank order of these lamentable behaviours. As we regularly discuss chiropractic and homeopathy here, I decided to use these two professions as examples (but I could, of course, have chosen almost any other SCAM).
- Treating conditions which are not indicated: SCAM practitioners of all types are often asked by their patients to treat conditions which their particular SCAM cannot not affect. Instead of honestly saying so, they frequently apply their SCAM, wait for the natural history of the condition to do its bit, and subsequently claim that their SCAM was effective.
- Over-charging: asking too much money for services or goods is common (not just) in SCAM. It raises the question, what is the right price? There is, of course, no easy answer to it. Over-charging is therefore mostly a judgement call and not something absolute.
- Misleading a patient: there are numerous ways in which patients can be misled by their SCAM practitioners. A chiropractor who uses the Dr title, without explaining that it is not a medical title, is misleading his/her patients. A homeopath who implies that the remedy he/she is selling is a proven treatment is also misleading his/her patients.
- Being economical with the truth: the line between lying (see below) and being economical with the truth is often blurred. In my view, a chiropractor who does not volunteer the information that acute back pain, in most cases, resolves within a few days regardless of whether he/she mapipulates the patient’s spine or not, is economical with the truth. Similarly, a homeopath who does not explain up front that the remedy he/she prescribes does not contain a single active molecule is economical with the truth.
- Employing unreasonably long series of therapy: A chiropractor or homeopath, who treats a patient for months without any improvement in the patient’s condition, should suggest to call it a day. Patients should be given a treatment plan at the first consultation which includes the information when it would be reasonable to stop the SCAM.
- Failing to refer: A chiropractor or homeopath, who treats a patient for months without any improvement in the patient’s condition should refer the patient to another, better suited healthcare provider. Failing to do so is a serious disservice to the patient.
- Unethical behaviour: there are numerous ways SCAM practitioners regularly violate healthcare ethics. The most obvious one, as discussed often before on this blog, is to cut corners around informed consent. A chiropractor might, for instance, not tell his/her patient before sarting the treatment that spinal manipulation is not supported by sound evidence for efficacy or safety. A homeopathy might not explain that homeopathy is generally considered to be implausible and not evidence-based.
- Neglect: medical neglect occurs when patients are harmed or placed at significant risk of harm by gaps in their medical care. If a chiropractor or a homeopath, for instance, claim to be able to effectively treat asthma and fail to insist that all prescribed asthma medications must nevertheless be continued – as both often do – they are guilty of neglect, in my view. Medical neglect can be a reason for starting legal proceedings.
- Lying: knowingly not telling the truth can also be a serious legal issue. An example would be a chiropractor who, after beeing asked by a patient whether neck manipulation can cause harm, answers that it is an entirely safe procedure which has never injured anyone. Similarly, if a homeopaths informs his/her patient that the remedy he/she is prescribing has been extensively tested and found to be effective for the patient’s condition, he must be lying. If these practitioners believe what they tell the patient to be true, they might not technically be lying, but they would be neglecting their ethical duty to be adequately informed and they would therefore present an even greater danger to thier patients.
- Abuse: means to use something for the wrong purpose in a way that is harmful or morally wrong. A chiropractor who tells the mother of a healty child that they need maintenance care in order to prevent them falling ill in the future is abusing her and the child, in my view. Equally, I think that a homeopath, who homeopathically treats a disease that would otherwise be curable with conventional treatments, abuses his patient.
- Fraud: fraud is a legal term referring to dishonest acts that intentionally use deception to illegally deprive another person or entity of money, property, or legal rights. It relies on the use of intentional misrepresentation of fact to accomplish the taking. Arguably, most of the examples listed above are fraud by this definition.
- Sexual misconduct: the term refers to any behaviour which is sexual in nature and which is unwelcome and engaged in without consent. It ranges from unwanted groping to rape. There is, for instance, evidence that sexual misconduct is not a rarety in the realm of chiropractic. I have personally served once as an expert witness against a SCAM practitioner is a court case at the Exeter Crown Court.
The 12 categories listed above are not nearly as clearly defined as one would wish, and there is plenty of overlap. I am not claiming that my suggested ‘scale of misdemeanors by SCAM practitioners‘ or the proposed rank order are as yet optimal or even adequate. I am, however, hoping that readers will help me with their suggestions to improve them. Perhaps your input might then generate a scale of practical use for the future.
Misinformation by chiropractors is unfortunately nothing new and has been discussed ad nauseam on this blog. It is tempting to ask whether chiropractors have lost (or more likely never had) the ability to ditinguish real information from misinformation or substantiated from unsubstantiated claims. During the pandemic, the phenomenon of chiropractic misinformation has become even more embarrassingly obvious, as this new article highlights.
Chiropractors made statements on social media claiming that chiropractic treatment can prevent or impact COVID-19. The rationale for these claims is that spinal manipulation can impact the nervous system and thus improve immunity. These beliefs often stem from nineteenth-century chiropractic concepts. The authors of the paper are aware of no clinically relevant scientific evidence to support such statements.
The investigators explored the internet and social media to collect examples of misinformation from Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand regarding the impact of chiropractic treatment on immune function. They discussed the potential harm resulting from these claims and explore the role of chiropractors, teaching institutions, accrediting agencies, and legislative bodies.
The authors conclude as follows: In this search of public media in Europe, North America, New Zealand, and Australia, we discovered many cases of misinformation. Claims of chiropractic treatment improving immunity conflict with the advice from authorities and the scientific consensus. The science referenced by these claims is missing, flawed or has no clinical relevance. Consequently, their claims about clinical effectiveness are spurious at best and misleading at worst. However, our examples cannot be used to make statements about the magnitude of the problem among practitioners as our samples were not intended to be representative. For that reason, we also did not include an analysis of the arguments provided in the various postings. In view of the seriousness of the topic, it would be relevant to conduct a systematic study on a representative sample of public statements, to better understand these issues. Our search illustrates the possible danger to public health of misinformation posted on social media and the internet. This situation provides an opportunity for growth and maturation for the chiropractic profession. We hope that individual chiropractors will reflect on and improve their communication and practices. Further, we hope that the chiropractic teaching institutions, regulators, and professional organisations will always demonstrate responsible leadership in their respective domains by acting to ensure that all chiropractors understand and uphold their fiduciary duties.
Several previous papers have found similar things, e.g.: Twitter activity about SMT and immunity increased during the COVID-19 crisis. Results from this work have the potential to help policy makers and others understand the impact of SMT misinformation and devise strategies to mitigate its impact.
The pandemic has crystallised the embarrassment about chiropractic false claims. Yet, the phenomenon of chiropractors misleading the public has long been known and arguably is even more important when it relates to matters other than COVID-19. Ten years ago, we published this paper:
Background: Some chiropractors and their associations claim that chiropractic is effective for conditions that lack sound supporting evidence or scientific rationale. This study therefore sought to determine the frequency of World Wide Web claims of chiropractors and their associations to treat, asthma, headache/migraine, infant colic, colic, ear infection/earache/otitis media, neck pain, whiplash (not supported by sound evidence), and lower back pain (supported by some evidence).
Methods: A review of 200 chiropractor websites and 9 chiropractic associations’ World Wide Web claims in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States was conducted between 1 October 2008 and 26 November 2008. The outcome measure was claims (either direct or indirect) regarding the eight reviewed conditions, made in the context of chiropractic treatment.
Results: We found evidence that 190 (95%) chiropractor websites made unsubstantiated claims regarding at least one of the conditions. When colic and infant colic data were collapsed into one heading, there was evidence that 76 (38%) chiropractor websites made unsubstantiated claims about all the conditions not supported by sound evidence. Fifty-six (28%) websites and 4 of the 9 (44%) associations made claims about lower back pain, whereas 179 (90%) websites and all 9 associations made unsubstantiated claims about headache/migraine. Unsubstantiated claims were made about asthma, ear infection/earache/otitis media, neck pain,
Conclusions: 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. We suggest the ubiquity of the unsubstantiated claims constitutes an ethical and public health issue.
It makes it clear that the misleading information of chiropractors is a serious problem. And I find it disappointing to see that so little has been done about it, and that progress seems so ellusive.
This, of course, begs the question, where does all this misinformation come from? The authors of the new paper stated that beliefs often stem from nineteenth-century chiropractic concepts. This, I believe, is very true and it gives us an important clue. It suggests that, because it is good for business, chiro schools are still steeped in obsolete notions of pseudo- and anti-science. Thus, year after year, they seem to churn out new generations of naively willing victims of the Dunning Kruger effect.
We have often heard it said on this blog and elsewhere that chiropractors are making great strides towards reforming themselves and becoming an evidence-based profession. In view of the data cited above, this does not ring all that true, I am afraid. Is the picture that emerges not one of a profession deeply embroiled in BS with but a few fighting a lost battle to clean up the act?
FOUR QUESTIONS TO DC + CRITICAL CHIRO (CC):
1) what does the law say about informed consent for Australian chiros?
2) what info exactly do you have to provide?
3) who monitors it?
4) what published evidence do we have about compliance?
CC then posted this reply:
Here we go again you demand evidence while providing little if any for your own assumptions (poor case studies do not count. The pleural of anecdote does not equal evidence whether it’s from chiro’s or you).
We have been over this many times over many years, I cite research/provide links yet you still find it challenging to take it onboard. It is human nature to feel obligated once making a public statement to defend it no matter how much evidence is sent your way. So not surprising.
“1) what does the law say about informed consent for Australian chiros?”
It is all freely available on the national regulators website (as you know and as I have referenced in the past):
Some research by chiropractors on this topic (cited many times in the past):
Risk Management for Chiropractors and Osteopaths. Informed consent
A Common Law Requirement (2004):
Quick advanced PubMed with filters set to “Chiropractic” AND “Informed consent”.
Not rocket science
Latest paper that you wrote an ill informed blog on and the comments were not going as you expected (So I expected you to double down like Donald Trump with a new blog within days. Your getting predictable).
This paper questions the legal implications of vertebral subluxations with high powered legal input and is a broadside by evidence based chiropractors against vitalistic chiropractors. You respond a snide fantasy informed consent dialogue when you should be supporting the authors:
“2) what info exactly do you have to provide?”
“4) what published evidence do we have about compliance?”
We have discussed this as well. It is a common law requirement for every profession and is checked upon re-registration by AHPRA every year and by the professional indemnity insurers every year. No informed consent, no registration and no professional indemnity insurance.
Checked AHPRA’s panel decisions and went back 5 YEARS and found ONE decision relating to informed consent:
“3) who monitors it?”
Another of your tired old arguments that we have discussed many times over the years.
In the UK there is the “‘Chiropractic Reporting and Learning System’ (CRLS)” but this is set up by the association representing chiropractors and not the registration board that advocates for patients. Right idea and step in the right direction, wrong organization.
Here years ago there was a trial of an adverse event reporting system in a Melbourne emergency department systematically collected relevant AE information on all professions which was sent to the relevant board for investigation.
It was supported by doctors and chiropractors while physio’s were not involved. A doctor involved told me it was killed off by ER doctors who “snivelled” about the extra paperwork.
There is no AE reporting system for physio’s, chiro’s, osteo’s, GP’s in private practice etc.
Over the years you have harped on and on about this topic as if it is a failing purely of the chiropractic profession when we have supported initiatives for its implementation.
You have also kept up with the research even commenting on an chiropractic researcher on AE’s Charlotte Leboeuf-Yde (who you highly regard) yet ignored until you could take issue with two sentences written in a blog then you wrote this hatchet blog:
So you are asking for evidence yet willfully ignore an author who “I have always thought highly of Charlotte’s work”.
Stop the cynical cherry picked blogs and start supporting the researchers and reformers otherwise you are just someone standing on the sidelines blindly throwing grenades. You do not care who you hit or the damage you do to the chiropractors leading the reform you demand yet consistently fail to support.
I thought the tone of this response was oddly aggressive and found that CC had failed to understand some of my questions. Yet the link to the chiro’s code of conduct https://www.chiropracticboard.gov.au/Codes-guidelines/Code-of-conduct.aspx was useful. This is what it says about informed consent:
- the chiro suggests a manipulation of the neck;
- this often involves forcing a spinal joint beyond its physiological range of motion;
- the treatment will be short but needs repeating several times during the coming weeks;
- the expected benefits are a reduction of pain and improvement of motion;
- the total cost of the treatment series will be xy;
- there are many other treatment options for neck pain;
- most of these have a better risk/benefit profile than neck manipulation;
- having no treatment for neck pain at all is likely to lead to full resolution of the problem over time.
Apart from any doubts that chiropractors would actually comply with these requirements, the question remains: is the listed information sufficient? Does it outline a truly a fully informed consent? I think that essential aspects of informed consent are missing.
- The code does not explicidly require an explanation about the possible harms of spinal manipulation (i.e. 50% of all patients will suffer mild to moderate adverse effects lasting 2-3 days, and occasionally patients will have a stroke of which some have died).
- Moreover, the code mentions EXPECTED benefits, but not benefits supported by evidence. Chiros may well EXPECT their treatment to work, but what does the evidence show? As often discussed on this blog, the evidence is negative or very week, depending how you want to interpret it. The code does not require a chiro to inform his patients about this fact.
So, the way I see it, the code does not expressedly demand the chiro to explain his patient that the treatment he is being asked to consent to is
- not supported by sound evidence for effectiveness,
- nor that the treatment is burdened with significant risks.
And what about the other questions listed above? An Australian chiropractor who will remain anonymous gave me the following answers:
Yet, Australian chiropractors claim that they abide by the ethical imperative of informed consent. Are they taking the Mickey?
Perhaps not. Perhaps they are merely trying to make sure they do not lose the majority of their clientele. As I already pointed out in my previous post, fully informed consent would make most chiropractic patients turn round and run a mile.
Today, HRH the Prince of Wales has his 72th birthday. As every year, I send him my best wishes by dedicating an entire post to a brief, updated summary of his achievements in the area of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM).
EARLY INFLUENCE OF LAURENCE VAN DER POST
Aged 18, Charles went on a journey of ‘spiritual discovery’ into the Kalahari desert. His guide was Laurens van der Post (later discovered to be a fraud and compulsive fantasist and to have fathered a child with a 14-year old girl entrusted to him during a sea voyage). Van der Post wanted to awake Charles’ mind and attune it to the ideas of Carl Jung’s ‘collective unconscious’, and it is this belief in vitalism that provides the crucial link to SCAM: virtually every form of SCAM is based on the assumption that some sort of vital force exists. Charles was impressed with van der Post that he made him the godfather of Prince William. After Post’s death, he established an annual lecture in his honour (the lecture series was quickly discontinued after van der Post was discovered to be a fraud).
CHIROPRACTIC and OSTEOPATHY
Throughout the 1980s, Charles lobbied for the statutory regulation of chiropractors and osteopaths in the UK. In 1993, this finally became reality. To this day, these two SCAM professions are the only ones regulated by statute in the UK.
THE BRITISH MEDICAL ASSOCIATION
In 1982, Prince Charles was elected as President of the British Medical Association (BMA) and promptly challenged the medical orthodoxy by advocating SCAM. In a speech at his inaugural dinner as President, the Prince lectured the medics: ‘Through the centuries healing has been practised by folk healers who are guided by traditional wisdom which sees illness as a disorder of the whole person, involving not only the patient’s body, but his mind, his self-image, his dependence on the physical and social environment, as well as his relation to the cosmos.’ The BMA-officials ordered a full report on alternative medicine which promptly condemned this area as implausible nonsense.
Six years later, a second report, entitled ‘Complementary Medicine – New Approaches to Good Practice’, heralded U-turn stating that: “the demand for non-conventional therapies had become so pressing that organised medicine in Britain could no longer ignore its contribution“. At the same time, however, the BMA set in motion a further chapter in the history of SCAM by insisting that it was “unacceptable” to allow the unrestricted practice of non-conventional therapies, irrespective of training or experience.
THE FOUNDATION OF INTEGRATED HEALTH
In 1993, Charles founded his lobby group which, after being re-named several times, ended up being called the ‘Foundation for Integrated Health’ (FIH). It was closed down in 2010 amidst allegations of money laundering and fraud. Its chief executive, George Gray, was later convicted and went to jail.
In 2001, Charles worked on plans to help build a model hospital of integrated medicine. It was to train doctors to combine conventional medicine and SCAMs, such as homeopathy, Ayurvedic medicine and acupuncture, and was to have around 100 beds. The prince’s intervention marked the culmination of years of campaigning by him for the NHS to assign a greater role to SCAM.
In 2001, Charles published an editorial in the BMJ promoting his ideas around integrative medicine. Its title: THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS. Ever since, Charles has been internationally recognised as one of the world’s most vociferous champions of integrated medicine.
In 2004, Charles publicly supported the Gerson diet as a treatment for cancer. Prof Baum, an eminent oncologists, was invited to respond in an open letter to the British Medical Journal: ” …Over the past 20 years I have treated thousands of patients with cancer and lost some dear friends and relatives to this dreaded disease…The power of my authority comes with knowledge built on 40 years of study and 25 years of active involvement in cancer research. Your power and authority rest on an accident of birth. I don’t begrudge you that authority but I do beg you to exercise your power with extreme caution when advising patients with life-threatening diseases to embrace unproven therapies.”
THE SMALLWOOD REPORT
In 2005, the ‘Smallwood-Report’ was published; it had been commissioned by Charles and paid for by Dame Shirley Porter to inform health ministers. It stated that up to 480 million pounds could be saved, if one in 10 family doctors offered homeopathy as an “alternative” to standard drugs for asthma. Savings of up to 3.5 billion pounds could be achieved by offering spinal manipulation rather than drugs to people with back pain. Because I had commented on this report, Prince Charles’ first private secretary asked my vice chancellor to investigate the alleged indiscretion; even though I was found to be not guilty of any wrong-doing, all local support at Exeter stopped which eventually led to my early retirement.
WORLD HEALTH ORGANISATION
In a 2006 speech, Prince Charles told the World Health Organisation in Geneva that SCAM should have a more prominent place in health care and urged every country to come up with a plan to integrate conventional and alternative medicine into the mainstream. Anticipating Prince Charles’s sermon in Geneva, 13 of Britain’s most eminent physicians and scientists wrote an “Open Letter” which expressed concern over “ways in which unproven or disproved treatments are being encouraged for general use in Britain’s National Health Service.” The signatories argued that “it would be highly irresponsible to embrace any medicine as though it were a matter of principle.”
TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE (TCM)
In 2007, the People’s Republic of China recorded the visit of Fu Ying, its ambassador in London at the time, to Clarence House, and announced that the Charles had praised TCM. “He hoped that it could be included in the modern medical system . . . and was willing to make a contribution to it.”
In 2009, the Prince held talks with the health Secretary to persuade him to introduce safeguards amid a crackdown by the EU that could prevent anyone who is not a registered health practitioner from selling remedies.
In the same year, Charles urged the government to protect SCAM because “we fear that we will see a black market in herbal products”, as Dr Michael Dixon, medical director of the FIH and Charles’ advisor in SCAM, put it.
UK HEALTH POLITICS
In 2009, the health secretary wrote to the Prince suggesting a meeting on the possibility of a study on integrating SCAM in England’s NHS. The Prince had written to Burnham’s predecessor, Alan Johnson, demanding greater access to SCAM in the NHS alongside conventional medicine. Charles stated that “despite waves of invective over the years from parts of the medical and scientific establishment” he continued to lobby “because I cannot bear people suffering unnecessarily when a complementary approach could make a real difference”.
In June 2014, BBC NEWS published the following text about a BBC4 broadcast entitled ‘THE ROYAL ACTIVIST’ aired on the same day: Prince Charles has been a well-known supporter of complementary medicine. According to a… former Labour cabinet minister, Peter Hain, it was a topic they shared an interest in. He had been constantly frustrated at his inability to persuade any health ministers anywhere that that was a good idea, and so he, as he once described it to me, found me unique from this point of view, in being somebody that actually agreed with him on this, and might want to deliver it. Mr Hain added: “When I was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in 2005-7, he was delighted when I told him that since I was running the place I could more or less do what I wanted to do. I was able to introduce a trial for complementary medicine on the NHS, and it had spectacularly good results, that people’s well-being and health was vastly improved. And when he learnt about this he was really enthusiastic and tried to persuade the Welsh government to do the same thing and the government in Whitehall to do the same thing for England, but not successfully,” added Mr Hain.
In October 2015, the Guardian obtained the infamous “black spider memos” which revealed that Charles had repeatedly lobbied politicians in favour of SCAM.
THE COLLEGE OF MEDICINE
In 2009, it was announced that the ‘College of Integrated Medicine’ (the successor of the FIH) was to have a second base in India. In 2011, Charles forged a link between ‘The College of Medicine’ and an Indian holistic health centre. The collaboration was reported to include clinical training to European and Western doctors in Ayurveda and homoeopathy and traditional forms of medicine to integrate them in their practice. The foundation stone for the extended campus of the Royal College known as the International Institution for Holistic and Integrated Medicine was laid by Dr Michael Dixon in collaboration with the Royal College of Medicine.
In 2020, Charles became the patron of the College of Medicine which, by then, had re-christened itself ‘College of Medicine and Integrated Health’. The College chair, Michael Dixon, was quoted stating: ‘This is a great honour and will support us as an organisation committed to taking medicine beyond drugs and procedures. This generous royal endorsement will enable us to be ever more ambitious in our mission to achieve a more compassionate and sustainable health service.”
DUTCHY ORIGINALS DETOX TINCTURE
In 2011, after the launch of Charles’ range of herbal tinctures, I had the audacity to publicly criticise Charles for selling the Duchy Herbals detox tincture which I named ‘Dodgy Originals Detox Tincture’.
In 2016, speaking at a global leaders summit on antimicrobial resistance, Prince Charles warned that Britain faced a “potentially disastrous scenario” because of the “overuse and abuse” of antibiotics. The Prince explained that he had switched to organic farming on his estates because of the growing threat from antibiotic resistance and now treats his cattle with homeopathic remedies rather than conventional medication. As some of you may be aware, this issue has been a long-standing and acute concern to me,” he told delegates from 20 countries “I have enormous sympathy for those engaged in the vital task of ensuring that, as the world population continues to increase unsustainably and travel becomes easier, antibiotics retain their availability to overcome disease… It must be incredibly frustrating to witness the fact that antibiotics have too often simply acted as a substitute for basic hygiene, or as it would seem, a way of placating a patient who has a viral infection or who actually needs little more than patience to allow a minor bacterial infection to resolve itself.”
In 2017, Charles declared that he will open a centre for SCAM in the recently purchased Dumfries House in Scotland. Currently, the College of Medicine and Integrated Health is offering two-day Foundation Courses at this iconic location. Gabriel Chiu, a US celebrity cosmetic and reconstructive surgeon, and his wife Christine, joined the Prince of Wales as he opened the integrated health and wellbeing centre on the Dumfries House Estate in East Ayrshire in 2019. As he unveiled a plaque, Prince Charles said: “I’m so glad that all of you have been able to get here today, particularly because I could not be more proud to see the opening of this new integrated health centre at Dumfries House. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for the last 35 years. I’m also so proud of all the team at Dumfries House who built it, an all in-house team.”
Generations of royals have favoured homeopathy, and allegedly it is because of this influence that homeopathy became part of the NHS in 1948. Homeopathy has also been at the core of Charles’ obsession with SCAM from its beginning. In 2017, ‘Country News’ published an article about our heir to the throne stating that Prince of Wales has revealed he uses homeopathic treatments for animals on his organic farm at Highgrove to help reduce reliance on antibiotics, the article stated. He said his methods of farming tried wherever possible to ‘‘go with the grain of nature’’ to avoid dependency on antibiotics, pesticides and other forms of chemical intervention.
In the same year, it was revealed that UK farmers were being taught how to treat their livestock with homeopathy “by kind permission of His Royal Highness, The Prince Of Wales”
In 2019, the Faculty of Homeopathy announced that His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales had accepted to become Patron of the Faculty of Homeopathy. Dr Gary Smyth, President of the Faculty of Homeopathy commented, “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.” Charles’ move amazed observers who saw it as a deliberate protest against the discontinuation of reimbursement of homeopathy by the NHS.
In 2020, Charles fell ill with the corona-virus and happily made a swift recovery. It was widely reported that his recovery was due to homeopathy, a notion denied by Clarence House.
Happy Birthday Charles
I was alerted to an outstanding article by an unusual author, a law firm, on the subject of chiropractic. Allow me to quote a few passages from it (without changing a word or adding a comment):
When Katie May passed away suddenly from a stroke at just 34 years old, it was initially ruled an accident. After further investigation, a coroner determined the stroke that claimed the model and single mother’s life was caused by injuries sustained during neck manipulation by a chiropractor. And Ms. May is not the first to be affected by this seemingly harmless procedure…
What health issues can be caused by chiropractic manipulation?
Chiropractors typically use their hands to apply pressure to joints, aiming to help alleviate pain and improve body function. This is referred to as a chiropractic adjustment.
Adjustments are commonly performed for neck and/or back pain. Although the Mayo Clinic says the risk of a serious complication is relatively small, these complications can include:
- A herniated disk, or worsening of an existing herniated disk
- Compression of nerves in the lower spinal column
- Stroke, which can result in paralysis or death
The last item on this list is particularly concerning.
Patients who receive neck manipulation are at risk for a stroke caused by vertebral artery dissection. Located in the neck, the vertebral arteries supply blood to the brain and can be torn by stretching and sudden force applied during a neck adjustment.
How could a chiropractor be responsible for a patient’s injury?
Although the risk of being seriously injured by a chiropractor is low, tragic accidents can and do happen. If you or a loved one believe you have been the victim of medical malpractice, please contact an experienced personal injury attorney.
Explaining how an injury or medical error occurred will help your attorney determine the potential liability of a chiropractor and any other involved parties. A chiropractor’s liability could fall into a legal category such as:
- Failure to Diagnose a Medical Condition – The chiropractor breaches a duty of care to their patients by failing to diagnose an underlying medical condition. This could occur when a patient reveals or exhibits symptoms of a severe issue, such as a stroke, and is not referred for appropriate medical attention.
- Lack of Informed Consent – A patient is treated without being properly informed of the potential risks or side effects, and experiences an injury from that treatment.
- Negligent Manipulation – The patient’s body is adjusted by the chiropractor in such a way that it causes a new injury or worsens an existing injury. This could also include manipulation of a patient who is pregnant and goes into premature labor.
- Chiropractic Induced Injury – A patient suffers injury, permanent irreversible damage such as paralysis or wrongful death as the direct result of a chiropractic manipulation.
To find out whether or not you may have a case, please discuss your concerns with a qualified personal injury attorney.
What should I do if I think I have been injured by chiropractic manipulation?
A personal injury attorney can help recover compensation for victims of medical malpractice, including those who have experienced a chiropractic injury. Surviving loved ones can also pursue their case after a family member’s wrongful death.
An attorney will help you collect documents, photos and other items pertaining to your case – but staying organized early in the process will be helpful. Try to preserve important documents, such as:
- Photographs before and after treatment
- Medical records and medical bills
- Receipts, appointment confirmations and other paperwork from your chiropractor
There is a time limit to file a medical malpractice lawsuit, referred to as a statute of limitations…
The issue of informed consent has made regular appearances on this blog. It is important and has many intriguing aspects, particularly for so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). On the one hand, it is a ‘conditio sine qua non’ for any form of healthcare, while, on the other hand, it is a near impossibility in SCAM practice.
In this new article published in a chiro-journal, the authors review the origins of informed consent and trace the duty of disclosure and materiality through landmark medical consent cases in four common law (case law) jurisdictions. The duty of disclosure has evolved from a patriarchal exercise to one in which patient autonomy in clinical decision making is paramount. Passing time has seen the duty of disclosure evolve to include non-medical aspects that may influence the delivery of care. The authors argue that a patient cannot provide valid informed consent for the removal of vertebral subluxation. Further, vertebral subluxation care cannot meet code of conduct standards because it lacks an evidence base and is practitioner-centered.
The uptake of the expanded duty of disclosure has been slow and incomplete by practitioners and regulators. The expanded duty of disclosure has implications, both educative and punitive for regulators, chiropractic educators and professional associations. The authors discuss how practitioners and regulators can be informed by other sources such as consumer law. For regulators, reviewing and updating informed consent requirements is required. For practitioners it may necessitate disclosure of health status, conflict of interest when recommending “inhouse” products, recency of training after attending continuing professional development, practice patterns, personal interests and disciplinary findings.
The authors conclude that, ultimately such matters are informed by the deliberations of the courts. It is our opinion that the duty of a mature profession to critically self-evaluate and respond in the best interests of the patient before these matters arrive in court.
In their paper, the authors also provide a standard list of items required for ‘informed’ consent:
(1) emphasizing the patient’s role in shared decision-making
(2) disclosure of information
a. explaining the patient’s medical status including diagnosis and prognosis
b. describing the proposed diagnostic and therapeutic intervention, including the likelihood and effect of associated risks and benefits of the proposed action, including material risks
c. discussing alternatives to the proposed intervention, including doing nothing
(3) prompting and answering patient questions related to the proposed course of action (NB. this involves probing for understanding, not simply asking ‘do you have any questions’), and
(4) eliciting the patient’s preference (usually by signature). (NB. A signed form is not consent. The conversation between the clinician and the patient or carer is the true process of obtaining informed consent. The signature on the consent form is proof that the conversation took place and that the patient understood and agreed.)
The authors of this article – I do commend it to all chiropractors – take a mostly judicial view of informed consent (for an ethical perspective on the subject, I recommend our book). They do not discuss, whether chiropractors do, in fact, adhere to the ethical imperative of informed consent. As I have stated before, there is not much research on this issue. But the little that does exist fails to show that chiropractors care much about it.
If it’s an ethical imerative, why do chiropractors not abide by it?
The answer to this question is not difficult to find. Just imagine a conversation between a chiropractor (C) and a patient with neck pain (P):
- P: What’s your diagnisis?
- C: You are suffering from acute neck pain.
- P: Thanks, that much was clear to me. What do you suggest I do?
- C: I will perform a manipulation of your neck, if you agree.
- P: Why would this help?
- C: It can realign the vertebrae that are out of place, simply put.
- P: And my pain will disappear?
- C: Sometimes it does, yes.
- P: But will it disappear quicker than without manipulation.
- C: Some of the evidence says so.
- P: Ok, but what does the most reliable evidence say?
- C: It is not entirely clear cut.
- P: Hmm, that does not sound too good.
- P: So, tell me, are there any risks?
- C: About 50% of patients suffer from minor to moderate pain for 2-3 days afterwards.
- P: That’s a lot!
- P: Anything else?
- C: In some cases, neck manipulation was followed by a stroke.
- P: Gee that’s bad; how often has this happened?
- C: We know of about 500 such cases.
- P: Heavens!
- C: Now, do you want the treatment or not?
- P: How much will you charge?
- C: Only 60 Euros per session.
- P: You mean I have to come back for more, each time risking a stroke?
- C: Well… You don’t have to.
- P: Thanks for the info; I am off. Cherio!
I rest my case.
Low-level laser therapy has been used clinically to treat musculoskeletal pain; however, there is limited evidence available to support its use. The current Cochrance review fails to be positive: there are insufficient data to draw firm conclusions on the clinical effect of LLLT for low‐back pain. So, perhaps studies on animals generate clearer answers?
The objective of this study was to evaluate the clinical effectiveness of low-level laser therapy and chiropractic care in treating thoracolumbar pain in competitive western performance horses. The subjects included 61 Quarter Horses actively involved in national western performance competitions judged to have back pain. A randomized, clinical trial was conducted by assigning affected horses to either:
- laser therapy,
- or combined laser and chiropractic treatment groups.
Low-level laser therapy was applied topically to local sites of back pain. The laser probe contained four 810-nm laser diodes spaced 15-mm apart in a square array that produced a total optical output power of 3 watts. Chiropractic treatment was applied to areas of pain and stiffness within the thoracolumbar and sacral regions. A single application of a high velocity, low-amplitude (HVLA) manual thrust was applied to affected vertebral segments using a reinforced hypothenar contact and a body-centered, body-drop technique. The HVLA thrusts were directed dorsolateral to ventromedial (at a 45° angle to the horizontal plane) with a segmental contact near the spinous process with the goal of increasing extension and lateral bending within the adjacent vertebral segments. If horses did not tolerate the applied chiropractic treatment, then truncal stretching, spinal mobilization, and the use of a springloaded, mechanical-force instrument were used as more conservative forms of manual therapy in these acute back pain patients.
Outcome parameters included a visual analog scale (VAS) of perceived back pain and dysfunction and detailed spinal examinations evaluating pain, muscle tone, and stiffness. Mechanical nociceptive thresholds were measured along the dorsal trunk and values were compared before and after treatment. Repeated measures with post-hoc analysis were used to assess treatment group differences.
Low-level laser therapy, as applied in this study, produced significant reductions in back pain, epaxial muscle hypertonicity, and trunk stiffness. Combined laser therapy and chiropractic care produced similar reductions, with additional significant decreases in the severity of epaxial muscle hypertonicity and trunk stiffness. Chiropractic treatment by itself did not produce any significant changes in back pain, muscle hypertonicity, or trunk stiffness; however, there were improvements in trunk and pelvic flexion reflexes.
The authors concluded that the combination of laser therapy and chiropractic care seemed to provide additive effects in treating back pain and trunk stiffness that were not present with chiropractic treatment alone. The results of this study support the concept that a multimodal approach of laser therapy and chiropractic care is beneficial in treating back pain in horses involved in active competition.
Let me play the devil’s advocate and offer a different conclusion:
These results show that horses are not that different from humans when it comes to responding to treatments. One placebo has a small effect; two placebos generate a little more effects.