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

diagnostic method

A new paper reminds us that so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) has been increasing in the United States and around the world, particularly at medical institutions known for providing rigorous evidence-based care. The use of SCAM may cause harm to patients through interactions with prescribed medications or by patients choosing to forego evidence-based care. SCAM may also put financial strain on patients as most SCAM expenditures are paid out-of-pocket.

Despite these drawbacks, patients continue to use SCAM due to a range of reasons, e.g. media promotion of SCAM therapies, dissatisfaction with conventional healthcare, a desire for more holistic care. Given the increasing demand for SCAM, many medical institutions now offer SCAM services. Several leaders of SCAM centres based at a highly respected academic medical institution have publicly expressed anti-vaccination views, and non-evidence-based philosophies run deep within SCAM.

Although there are financial incentives for institutions to provide SCAM, it is important to recognize that this legitimizes SCAM and may cause harm to patients. The poor regulation of SCAM allows for the continued distribution of products and services that have not been rigorously tested for safety and efficacy.

As I have tried to point out many times, the potential for harm caused by the increasing integration of SCAM can thus be summarised as follows:

  1. direct harm due to adverse effects such as toxicity of an herbal remedy, stroke after chiropractic manipulation, pneumothorax after acupuncture;
  2. direct harm through the use of bogus diagnostic techniques;
  3. direct harm by using materials from endangered species;
  4. indirect harm through incompetent advice such as recommendation not to immunize or discontinue prescribed medications;
  5. neglect due to using SCAM instead of an effective therapy for a serious condition;
  6. harm due to medicalising trivial states of reduced well-being;
  7. financial harm due to the costs of SCAM;
  8. harm through making a mockery of evidence-based medicine;
  9. harm caused by undermining rational thinking in the society at large;
  10. harm caused by inhibiting medical progress and research.

In case you see other ways in which SCAM can cause harm, please let me know by posting a comment.

Prince Charles is visiting Germany. According to the British press, he will say (or, by now, probably has said):

“… Our countries and our people have been through so much together… As we look towards the future, I can only hope that we can also pledge to redouble our commitment to each other and to the ties between us… For some of us, of course, these connections are particularly personal…

And right he is!

Charles is Britain’s staunchest supporter of and meddler in SCAM, while the Germans seem to be the most prolific innovators of SCAM.

Just think of

  • von Bingen, Hildegard – inventor of a form of herbal medicine;
  • Hahnemann, Samuel – inventor of homeopathy;
  • Hamer, Ryke Geerd – inventor of New German Medicine;
  • Huneke, Ferdinand – inventor of neural therapy;
  • Kneipp, Sebastian – co-inventor of naturopathy;
  • Mesmer, Anton – inventor of hypnotherapy;
  • Morlell, Franz – inventor of bioresonance;
  • Reckeweg, Hans -inventor of homotoxicology;
  • Schimmel, Helmut – co-inventor of the Vega test;
  • Schulz, Heinrich – inventor of autogenic training;
  • Steiner, Rudlof – inventor of anthroposophical medicine;
  • Voll, Reinhold – inventor of a form of electroacupuncture;
  • Wegman, Ita – co-inventor of anthroposophical medicine.

Why did I compile this list?

Actually, I am not quite sure. But now that it is in front of me, a few thoughts go through my mind:

  1. Germany seems to be the promised land for quacks; in addition to the list above, think of the Heilpraktiker or the German alternative cancer clinics.
  2. On this blog, we have discussed most of these SCAMs, yet the list gave me several ideas for future posts;
  3. With only three exceptions, these SCAMs are fairly recent. They were invented when conventional medicine was already making big strides towards progress. There was no need for them. Why then were they invented?
  4. Almost all of these treatments were the brainchild of a single person. Could this be a hallmark for quackery?
  5. With only two exceptions, the inventors were male. Is the innovation of SCAM a male prerogative?
  6. With just one or two exceptions, these SCAMs are ineffective, useless and superfluous. Not attributes, of course, that would link them to Charles!

 

The Canadian Chiropractic Association (CCA)… published a report to support clearer understanding of the chiropractic profession… Here are a few crucial quotes (in bold print) from this document (my are comments in normal print).

Put simply, chiropractors are spine, muscle and nervous system experts specifically trained to diagnose the underlying cause and recommend treatment options to relieve pain, restore mobility and prevent re occurrence without surgery or pharmaceuticals…

By this definition, I am a chiropractor! – and so are osteopaths, physiotherapists, several other SCAM practitioners, and most doctors.

… there is a concept in the pharmaceutical industry known as a risk-benefit analysis which is used to assess how much benefit a medication has compared to the potential risk. The riskier the medication, the less likely it will become mainstream.(2)

The concept of risk/benefit analysis applies to all medicine. It needs, of course, good knowledge of both the risks and the benefits. The second sentence of this paragraph is nonsense and suggests that the CCA fails to understand the concept.

Spinal manipulations should be recommended for patients when a similar risk-benefit assessment has been conducted. This assessment on the safety of chiropractic treatments is performed via the patient intake form and physical examination.

As there is no reporting system of adverse effects of spinal manipulations, a risk/benefit analysis is impossible. The second sentence of this paragraph is nonsense; there are no examinations that tell us about the risks of spinal manipulation.

Adverse reactions lasting less than 24 hours include headaches, stiffness, fatigue, local pain, prickling sensation, nausea, hot skin/flushing, and fainting. In up to 50% of patients, one or more of these have been reported over the span of a lifetime.(3, 4)

Perhaps adverse reactions last ON AVERAGE 24 hours; they can last up to 3 days.  About half of all patients experience such reactions.

Exact numbers on adverse events from chiropractic manipulation are difficult to extract due to variables such as research design, inclusion criteria and study selection. There is still a lot of research to be conducted on the role of spinal manipulation in individuals with serious adverse events.

The frequency of adverse events is unknown because there is no adequate reporting scheme.

Chiropractic treatment is a safe option for the prevention, assessment, diagnosis and management of musculoskeletal conditions and associated neurological system. Canadian chiropractors have over 4,200 hours of core competency training in the musculoskeletal system. It is up to each individual patient and their healthcare provider to assess the safety of chiropractic treatments and potential risks associated, and decide if spinal manipulation is right for them.

There is no good evidence that chiropractic treatment is safe.

There is no good evidence that chiropractic treatment is effective for disease prevention.

Chiropractic treatment is an option for assessment and diagnosis??? This is another nonsensical claim.

Chiropractic treatment is an option for associated neurological system??? Another nonsense!

Each individual patient and their healthcare provider assessing the safety is not an option.

References used in the quotes:

2 Risk: benefit analysis of drugs in practice Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin 1995;33:33-35.

3 Non-drug management of chronic low back pain Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin 2009;47:102-107.

4 Gibbons P, Tehan P. HVLA thrust techniques: what are the risks? International Journal of Osteopathic Medicine. 2006 Mar 1;9(1):4-12.

The references cited are pitiful!

In conclusion, I suggest the CCA re-read their statement and revise it according to the evidence, common sense and the rules of the English language. As it stands, it’s just too embarrassing – even for chiropractic standards!

We have discussed the diagnostic methods used by practitioners of alternative medicine several times before (see for instance here, here, here, here, here and here). Now a new article has been published which sheds more light on this important issue.

The authors point out that the so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) community promote and sell a wide range of tests, many of which are of dubious clinical significance. Many have little or no clinical utility and have been widely discredited, whilst others are established tests that are used for unvalidated purposes.

  1. The paper mentions the 4 key factors for evaluation of diagnostic methods:
    Analytic validity of a test defines its ability to measure accurately and reliably the component of interest. Relevant parameters include analytical accuracy and precision, susceptibility to interferences and quality assurance.
  2. Clinical validity defines the ability to detect or predict the presence or absence of an accepted clinical disease or predisposition to such a disease. Relevant parameters include sensitivity, specificity, and an understanding of how these parameters change in different populations.
  3. Clinical utility refers to the likelihood that the test will lead to an improved outcome. What is the value of the information to the individual being tested and/or to the broader population?
  4. Ethical, legal and social implications (ELSI) of a test. Issues include how the test is promoted, how the reasons for testing are explained to the patient, the incidence of false-positive results and incorrect diagnoses, the potential for unnecessary treatment and the cost-effectiveness of testing.

The tests used by  SCAM-practitioners range from the highly complex, employing state of the art technology, e.g. heavy metal analysis using inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry, to the rudimentary, e.g. live blood cell analysis. Results of ‘SCAM tests’ are often accompanied by extensive clinical interpretations which may recommend, or be used to justify, unnecessary or harmful treatments. There are now a small number of laboratories across the globe that specialize in SCAM testing. Some SCAM laboratories operate completely outside of any accreditation programme whilst others are fully accredited to the standard of established clinical laboratories.

In their review, the authors explore SCAM testing in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia with a focus on the common tests on offer, how they are reported, the evidence base for their clinical application and the regulations governing their use. They also review proposed changed to in-vitro diagnostic device regulations and how these might impact on SCAM testing.

The authors conclude hat the common factor in all these tests is the lack of evidence for clinical validity and utility as used in SCAM practice. This should not be surprising since this is true for SCAM practice in general. Once there is a sound evidence base for an intervention, such as a laboratory test, then it generally becomes incorporated into conventional medical practice.

The paper also discusses possible reasons why SCAM-tests are appealing:

  • Adding an element of science to the consultation. Patients know that conventional medicine relies heavily on laboratory diagnostics. If the SCAM practitioner orders laboratory tests, the patient may feel they are benefiting from a scientific approach.
  • Producing material diagnostic data to support a diagnosis. SCAM lab reports are well presented in a format that is attractive to patients adding legitimacy to a diagnosis. Tests are often ordered as large profiles of multiple analytes. It follows that this will increase the probability of getting results outside of a given reference interval purely by chance. ‘Abnormal’ results give the SCAM practitioner something to build a narrative around if clinical findings are unclear. This is particularly relevant for patients who have chronic conditions, such as CFS or fibromyalgia where a definitive cause has not been established and treatment options are limited.
  • Generating business opportunities using abnormal results. Some practitioners may use abnormal laboratory results to justify further testing, supplements or therapies that they can offer.
  • By offering tests that are not available through traditional healthcare services some SCAM practitioners may claim they are offering a unique specialist service that their doctor is unable to provide. This can be particularly appealing to patients with unexplained symptoms for which there are a limited range of evidenced-based investigations and treatments available.

Regulation of SCAM laboratory testing is clearly deficient, the authors of this paper conclude. Where SCAM testing is regulated at all, regulatory authorities primarily evaluate analytical validity of the tests a laboratory offers. Clinical validity and clinical utility are either not evaluated adequately or not evaluated at all and the ethical, legal and social implications of a test may only be considered on a reactive basis when consumers complain about how tests are advertised.

I have always thought that the issue of SCAM tests is hugely important; yet it remains much-neglected. A rubbish diagnosis is likely to result in a rubbish treatment. Unreliable diagnostic methods lead to false-positive and false-negative diagnoses. Both harm the patient. In 1995, I thus published a review that concluded with this warning “alternative” diagnostic methods may seriously threaten the safety and health of patients submitted to them. Orthodox doctors should be aware of the problem and inform their patients accordingly.

Sadly, my warning has so far had no effect whatsoever.

I hope this new paper is more successful.

Many chiropractors tell new mothers that their child needs chiropractic adjustments because the birth is in their view a trauma for the new-born that causes subluxations of the baby’s spine. Without expert chiropractic intervention, they claim, the poor child risks serious developmental disorders.

This article (one of hundreds) explains it well: Birth trauma is often overlooked by doctors as the cause of chronic problems, and over time, as the child grows, it becomes a thought less considered. But the truth is that birth trauma is real, and the impact it can have on a mother or child needs to be addressed. Psychological therapy, physical therapy, chiropractic care, acupuncture, and other healing techniques should all be considered following an extremely difficult birth.

And another article makes it quite clear what intervention is required: Caesarian section or a delivery that required forceps or vacuum extraction procedures, in-utero constraint, an unusual presentation of the baby, and many more can cause an individual segment of the spine or a region to shift from its normal healthy alignment. This ‘shift’ in the spine is called a Subluxation, and it can happen immediately before, during, or after birth.

Thousands of advertisements try to persuade mothers to take their new-born babies to a chiropractor to get the problem sorted which chiropractors often call KISS (kinetic imbalance due to suboccipital strain-syndrome), caused by intrauterine-constraint or the traumas of birth.

This abundance of advertisements and promotional articles is in sharp contrast with the paucity of scientific evidence.

A review of 1993 concluded that birth trauma remains an underpublicized and, therefore, an undertreated problem. There is a need for further documentation and especially more studies directed toward prevention. In the meantime, manual treatment of birth trauma injuries to the neuromusculoskeletal system could be beneficial to many patients not now receiving such treatment, and it is well within the means of current practice in chiropractic and manual medicine.

A more critical assessment of … concluded that, given the absence of evidence of beneficial effects of spinal manipulation in infants and in view of its potential risks, manual therapy, chiropractic and osteopathy should not be used in infants with the kinetic imbalance due to suboccipital strain-syndrome, except within the context of randomised double-blind controlled trials.

So, what follows from all this?

How about this?

Chiropractors’ assumption of an obligatory birth trauma that causes subluxation and requires spinal adjustments is nothing more than a ploy by charlatans for filling their pockets with the cash of gullible parents.

The over-use of X-ray diagnostics by chiropractors has long been a concern (see for instance here,and here). As there is a paucity of reliable research on this issue, this new review is more than welcome.

It aimed to summarise the current evidence for the use of spinal X-ray in chiropractic practice, with consideration of the related risks and benefits. The authors, chiropractors from Australia and Canada who did a remarkable job in avoiding the term SUBLUXATION throughout the paper, showed that the proportion of patients receiving X-ray as a result of chiropractic consultation ranges from 8 to 84%. I find this range quite staggering and in need of an explanation.

The authors also stated that current evidence supports the use of spinal X-rays only in the diagnosis of trauma and spondyloarthropathy, and in the assessment of progressive spinal structural deformities such as adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. MRI is indicated to diagnose serious pathology such as cancer or infection, and to assess the need for surgical management in radiculopathy and spinal stenosis. Strong evidence demonstrates risks of imaging such as excessive radiation exposure, over-diagnosis, subsequent low-value investigation and treatment procedures, and increased costs. In most cases the potential benefits from routine imaging, including spinal X-rays, do not outweigh the potential harms. The authors state that the use of spinal X-rays should not be routinely performed in chiropractic practice, and should be guided by clinical guidelines and clinician judgement.

The problem, however, is that many chiropractors do not abide by those guidelines. The most recent data I am aware of suggests that  only about half of them are even aware of radiographic guidelines for low back pain. The reasons given for obtaining spinal X-rays by chiropractors are varied and many are not supported by evidence of benefit. These include diagnosis of pathology or trauma; determination of treatment options; detection of contraindications to care; spinal biomechanical analysis; patient reassurance; and medicolegal reasons.

One may well ask why chiropractors over-use X-rays. The authors of the new paper provide the following explanations:

  • lack of education,
  • ownership of X-ray facilities,
  • and preferred chiropractic technique modalities (i. e. treatment techniques which advocate the use of routine spinal X-rays to perform biomechanical analysis, direct appropriate treatment, and perform patient reassessment).

Crucially, the authors state that, based on the evidence, the use of X-ray imaging to diagnose benign spinal findings will not improve patient outcomes or safety. For care of non-specific back or neck pain, studies show no difference in treatment outcome when routine spinal X-rays have been used, compared to management without X-rays.

A common reason suggested by chiropractors for spinal X-ray imaging is to screen for anomalies or serious pathology that may contraindicate treatment that were otherwise unsuspected by the clinical presentation. While some cases of serious pathology, such as cancer and infection, may not initially present with definitive symptoms, X-ray assessment at this early stage of the disease process is also likely to be negative, and is not recommended as a screening tool.

The authors concluded that the use of spinal X-rays in chiropractic has been controversial, with benefits for the use of routine spinal X-rays being proposed by some elements of the profession. However, evidence of these postulated benefits is limited or non-existent. There is strong evidence to demonstrate potential harms associated with spinal X-rays including increased ionising radiation exposure, over-diagnosis, subsequent low-value investigation and treatment procedures, and increased unnecessary costs. Therefore, in the vast majority of cases who present to chiropractors, the potential benefit from spinal X-rays does not outweigh the potential harms. Spinal X-rays should not be performed as a routine part of chiropractic practice, and the decision to perform diagnostic imaging should be informed by evidence based clinical practice guidelines and clinician judgement.

So, if you consult a chiropractor – and I don’t quite see why you should – my advice would be not to agree to an X-ray.

By guest blogger Hans-Werner Bertelsen

Holistic ideas are booming, and they do not stop at dental medicine, where procedures and techniques that take an alleged ‘holistic’ approach are becoming more and more popular. Are these procedures and techniques effective, and do they offer a benefit over their conventional counterparts, or is it rather the providers of such procedures and techniques who benefit from a lack of knowledge and understanding in patients who seek out this so-called alternative dentistry? This paper will take a look at three topics—the concept of projections, material testing approaches, amalgam removal—that form the basis for many procedures and techniques in so-called alternative dentistry, to examine whether they offer a sound foundation for said procedures and techniques, or whether they are merely empty promises. Might they be nothing but marketing tricks?

The concept of projections suggests that conventional medicine does look closely enough at the human body, ignoring as of yet undiscovered energy lines and other mysterious linkages. Material testing approaches claim to detect harmful and allergenic components, the removal of which may be beneficial in case of systemic diseases, possibly even curing them. Beginning on July 1, 2018, the use of amalgam will be strongly restricted all throughout Europe. This easy-to-use material has received much attention for decades, as it contains a large proportion of mercury, which is known for its high neurotoxicity, and is, therefore, suspected of causing illness in the long term.

Normally, we think of projections as requiring a screen, onto which something then can be projected. Teeth, however, are also ideally suited as a dumping ground for the underlying causes of somatic and/or mental diseases, from where they can radiate out as so-called projections. Once these are identified as the true cause of disease, other potential causes such as age-related wear and tear, detrimental behaviors, or harmful eating habits can be readily ignored. This concept of projections may have particularly harmful and negative consequences in patients with tumors, as it may cause feelings of guilt, although in many cases no definite cause of tumor development can be discerned. Projected feelings of guilt, in turn, can be a negative influence on a person’s health.

The so-called “system of meridians” assigns relationship qualities to individual teeth, meaning that there are strict relationships of individual teeth to the body’s organs and individual entities. [1]

According to this system, an inflammation of the urinary bladder would be related to the number 1 teeth, the incisors. Rheumatism is linked to the number 8 teeth, the wisdom teeth. In between, there are the teeth of the ordinal numbers 2 to 7, distinguished by their locations on the left or right, in the upper or lower jaw, which offer a wealth of opportunities to assign a “guilty tooth” to clinically common physical complaints. However, this mysterious connection is postulated not only for teeth and major organs, but also for joints, vertebral levels, sensory organs, tonsils, and glands, with the relationships neatly organized in ten groups and subgroups. Multiplied by the number of teeth—eight per each of the four quadrants, 32 in total—these afford the “holistic dentist” 320 opportunities for projecting physical complaints ranging from asthma to zonulitis onto a tooth. Those who believe in this system of projections are not deterred by the fact that there is no scientific proof whatsoever for this odd thesis.

On the other hand, it is basic medical knowledge that pathogens may spread hematogenically and affect remote organs. Seeking adequate specialist counsel when dealing with rheumatic diseases, fevers of unclear etiology, or in conjunction with orthopedic joint surgeries, is, therefore, mandated by guidelines and an obvious standard in the practice of medicine. So-called alternative dentistry makes no particular mention of these general facts, but instead focuses on occult-seeming correlations in order to use a mysterious, almost conspiratorial idea of a disease to legitimize the often invasive treatment options it then recommends. Most patients will not realize that these interpretations often mistake synchronicity for causality. For example, most infections of the urinary bladder will resolve over time, regardless of whether any work was done on the upper incisors or not. However, if during the period of healing one of the incisors was treated by a dentist, it is easy enough to associate this treatment with the resolving bladder infection. From a psychological viewpoint, this constitutes a simple manipulation technique, applied to demonstrate the seemingly superior diagnostics of alternative dentistry: a simple, and easily recognized marketing strategy.

When asked what would happen to these doubtful projections in case of an autologous transplantation during which a tooth would move to another tooth’s original place in the jaw, three leading representatives of the so-called alternative dentistry answered in an evasive and even manipulative manner. [2]

There are reports of invasive therapies, conducted following dubious, often electromedical diagnostic procedures, that not only lead to high costs for the repair of the damage they caused, but also to a lasting mutilation of the patients’ jaws and dentitions. [3-6]

Another supposedly holistic school of thought that is similar to that of the system of meridians exists in some fields of dentistry regarding temporo-mandibular joint dysfunction (TMJD, TMD). These theories suggest that a disbalance in the interaction between jaw bones and masticatory muscles may be responsible for all kinds of diseases. [7]

According to the German self-appointed “TMJD Umbrella Organization” (CMD-Dachverband e. V.), TMJD is a “multifaceted disease.” The claim is that TMJD may not only cause back pain, vertigo, and tinnitus, but also sleep apnea, snoring, neck and shoulder pain, hip and knee pain, headaches, migraines, visual, mood swings, and even depression. However, there is no scientific evidence for any of these claims. [8,9]

Jens C. Türp of the University Center for Dental Medicine Basel’s Department of Oral Health & Medicine, Division Temporomandibular Disorders and Orofacial Pain, has called this standard diagnosis, offered by TMJD diagnosticians whenever a patient shows signs of nocturnal teeth grinding, “nonsense that makes your hair stand on end.”

“For a variety of general symptoms, it is claimed that they are caused by a TMJD: Tinnitus, ocular pressure, differences in the lengths of a person’s legs, back pain, hip pain, and knee pain, balance disorders, tingling in the fingers and many more. ‘A relationship [with TMJD] has never been proven for any of these symptoms’, says Türp. According to him, true TMJD causes problems with chewing and pain. Affected patients have difficulties opening their mouth wide or closing it fully. The “CMD-Arztsuche” (Find a TMJD Specialist) website recommends ‘a lasting correction of a person’s bite’ as treatment. This should be achieved with the help of ceramic inlays, dental crowns, and implants— all of which are expensive and unnecessary measures, in the opinion of Jens Türp. He treats his TMJD patients–almost always successfully, as he says–with occlusal splints, physiotherapy, and relaxation exercises.” (Translated from German [10])

In general, any patient should be advised, therefore, to seek a second opinion whenever confronted with a diagnosis requiring invasive treatments.

References:

1. Madsen, H. Studie zur Kieferorthopädie in der Alternativmedizin: Darstellung der Grundlagen und kritische Bewertung. Doctoral dissertation, Poliklinik für Kieferorthopädie der Universität Würzburg. Würzburg 1994

2. Schulte von Drach, M.C. Wenn Zähne fremdgehen. Süddeutsche Zeitung May 15, 2012.

3. Staehle, H.J. Der Patientin wurde das Gebiss verstümmelt. Zahnärztliche Mitteilungen 2000.

4. Dowideit, A. Wenn nach der “Störfeld-Messung” alle Backenzähne fehlen. Welt June 3, 2017.

5. Bertelsen, H.-W. Die Attraktvität “ganzheitlicher” Zahnmedizin – Teil 1: Bohren ohne Reue. skeptiker 2012, 4.

6. Bertelsen, H.-W. Die Attraktivität “ganzheitlicher” Zahnmedizin – Teil 2: Bohren ohne Reue. skeptiker 2013, 4.

7. CMD Dachverband e. V. Craniomandibuläre Dysfunktion – Ursachen & Symptome. http://www.cmd-dachverband.de/fuer-patienten/ursachen-symptome/ (May 11, 2018),

8. Wolf, T. Die richtige Hilfe bei Kieferbeschwerden. Spiegel Online July 7, 2014, 2014.

9. Türp, J.C.; Schindler, H.-J.; Antes, G. Temporomandibular disorders: Evaluation of the usefulness of a self-test questionnaire. Zeitschrift für Evidenz, Fortbildung und Qualität im Gesundheitswesen 2013, 107, 285-290.

10. Albrecht, B. Teure Tricks der Zahnärzte – so schützen Sie sich vor Überbehandlung. stern February 18, 2016.

 

This recent announcement by the Society of Homeopaths (SoH), the organisation of non-doctor homeopaths in the UK, seems worthy of a short comment. Here is the unabbreviated text in question:

Two new members have been appointed to the Society’s Public Affairs (PAC) and Professional Standards (PSC)  committees for three-year terms of office.

Selina Hatherley RSHom is joining the PAC.  She has been a member since 2004 and works in three multi-disciplinary practices in Oxfordshire and previously ran a voluntary clinic working with people with drug, alcohol and mental health issues for 12 years. She has also been involved in the acute trauma clinics following the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017.

New to the PSC is Lynne Howard. She became a RSHom in 1996 and runs a practice in three locations in east London and a major London hospital. She specialises in pregnancy, birth and mother-and-baby issues.

“Following an open and comprehensive appointment process, we are delighted to welcome Selina and Lynne ‘on-board’ as brand-new committee members who will bring new ideas, experiences and knowledge to the society,” said Chief Executive Mark Taylor.

END OF QUOTE

It seems to me that the SoH might be breaching its very own Code of Ethics with these appointments.

1) Lynne Howard BA, LCH, MCH, RSHom tells us on her website that she has been practising homeopathy for 25 years, she has run many children’s clinics and is a registered CEASE practitioner with a special interest in fertility and children’s health.

CEASE therapy has been discussed before on this blog. It is highly unethical and the SoH have been warned about it before. They even pretended to take the warning seriously.

2) Selina Hatherley has a website where she tells us this: In 2011 I trained as a Vega practitioner – enabling me to use the Vega machine to test for food sensitivity and allergens. I use homeopathic remedies to support the findings and to help restore good health… I am a registered member of the Society of Homeopaths – the largest organisation registering professional homeopaths in Europe, I abide by their Code of Ethics and Practice and am fully insured.

Vega, or electrodermal testing for allergies has been evaluated by the late George Lewith (by Jove not a man who was biased against such things) and found to be bogus. Here are the conclusions of his study published in the BMJ: “Electrodermal testing cannot be used to diagnose environmental allergies.” That’s pretty clear, I think. As the BMJ is not exactly an obscure journal, the result should be known to everyone with an interest in Vega-testing. And, of course, disregarding such evidence is unethical.

But perhaps, in homeopathy, ethics can be diluted like homeopathic remedies?

Perhaps the SoH’s Code of Ethics even allows such behaviour?

Have a look yourself; here are the 16 core principles of the SoH’s CODE OF ETHICS:

1.1 Put the individual needs of the patient first.

1.2 Respect the privacy and dignity of patients.

1.3 Treat everyone fairly, respectfully, sensitively and appropriately without discrimination.

1.4 Respect the views of others and, when stating their own views, avoid the disparagement of others either professionally or personally.

1.5 Work to foster and maintain the trust of individual patients and the public.

1.6 Listen actively and respect the individual patient’s views and their right to personal choice.

1.7 Encourage patients to take responsibility for their own health, through discussion and provision of information.

1.8 Comprehensively record any history the patient may give and the advice and treatment the registered or student clinical member has provided.

1.9 Provide comprehensive clear and balanced information to allow patients to make informed choices.

1.10 Respect and protect the patients’ rights to privacy and confidentiality.

1.11 Maintain and develop professional knowledge and skills.

1.12 Practise only within the boundaries of their own competence.

1.13 Respond promptly and constructively to concerns, criticisms and complaints.

1.14 Respect the skills of other healthcare professionals and where possible work in cooperation with them.

1.15 Comply with the current statutory legislation in relation to their practice as a homeopath of the country, state or territory where they are practising.

1.16 Practise in accordance with the Core Criteria for Homeopathic Practice and the Complementary and Natural Healthcare National Occupational Standards for Homeopathy.

______________________________________________________

I let you decide whether or not the code was broken by the new appointments and, if so, on how many accounts.

Lock 10 bright people into a room and tell them they will not be let out until they come up with the silliest idea in healthcare. It is not unlikely, I think, that they might come up with the concept of visceral osteopathy.

In case you wonder what visceral osteopathy (or visceral manipulation) is, one ‘expert’ explains it neatly: Visceral Osteopathy is an expansion of the general principles of osteopathy which includes a special understanding of the organs, blood vessels and nerves of the body (the viscera). Visceral Osteopathy relieves imbalances and restrictions in the interconnections between the motions of all the organs and structures of the body. Jean-Piere Barral RPT, DO built on the principles of Andrew Taylor Still DO and William Garner Sutherland DO, to create this method of detailed assessment and highly specific manipulation. Those who wish to practice Visceral Osteopathy train intensively through a series of post-graduate studies.  The ability to address the specific visceral causes of somatic dysfunction allows the practitioner to address such conditions as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), irritable bowel (IBS), and even infertility caused by mechanical restriction.

But, as I have pointed out many times before, the fact that a treatment is based on erroneous assumptions does not necessarily mean that it does not work. What we need to decide is evidence. And here we are lucky; a recent paper provides just that.

The purpose of this systematic review was to identify and critically appraise the scientific literature concerning the reliability of diagnosis and the clinical efficacy of techniques used in visceral osteopathy.

Only inter-rater reliability studies including at least two raters or the intra-rater reliability studies including at least two assessments by the same rater were included. For efficacy studies, only randomized-controlled-trials (RCT) or crossover studies on unhealthy subjects (any condition, duration and outcome) were included. Risk of bias was determined using a modified version of the quality appraisal tool for studies of diagnostic reliability (QAREL) in reliability studies. For the efficacy studies, the Cochrane risk of bias tool was used to assess their methodological design. Two authors performed data extraction and analysis.

Extensive searches located 8 reliability studies and 6 efficacy trials that could be included in this review. The analysis of reliability studies showed that the diagnostic techniques used in visceral osteopathy are unreliable. Regarding efficacy studies, the least biased study showed no significant difference for the main outcome. The main risks of bias found in the included studies were due to the absence of blinding of the examiners, an unsuitable statistical method or an absence of primary study outcome.

The authors (who by the way declared no conflicts of interest) concluded that the results of the systematic review lead us to conclude that well-conducted and sound evidence on the reliability and the efficacy of techniques in visceral osteopathy is absent.

It is hard not to appreciate the scientific rigor of this review or to agree with the conclusions drawn by the French authors.

But what consequences should we draw from all this?

The authors of this paper state that more and better research is needed. Somehow, I doubt this. Visceral osteopathy is not plausible and the best evidence available to date does not show it works. In my view, this means that we should declare it an obsolete aberration of medical history.

To this, the proponents of visceral osteopathy will probably say that they have tons of experience and have witnessed wonderful cures etc. This I do not doubt; however, the things they saw were not due to the effects of visceral osteopathy, they were due to chance, placebo, regression towards the mean, the natural history of the diseases treated etc., etc. And sometimes, experience is nothing more that the ability to repeat a mistake over and over again.

  • If it looks like a placebo,
  • if it behaves like a placebo,
  • if it tests like a placebo,

IT MOST LIKELY IS A PLACEBO!!!

And what is wrong with a placebo, if it helps patients?

GIVE ME A BREAK!

WE HAVE ALREADY DISCUSSED THIS AD NAUSEAM. JUST READ SOME OF THE PREVIOUS POSTS ON THIS SUBJECT.

During Voltaire’s time, this famous quote was largely correct. But today, things are very different, and I often think this ‘bon mot’ ought to be re-phrased into ‘The art of alternative medicine consists in amusing the patient, while medics cure the disease’.

To illustrate this point, I shall schematically outline the story of a patient seeking care from a range of clinicians. The story is invented but nevertheless based on many real experiences of a similar nature.

Tom is in his mid 50s, happily married, mildly over-weight and under plenty of stress. In addition to holding a demanding job, he has recently moved home and, as a consequence of lots of heavy lifting, his whole body aches. He had previous episodes of back trouble and re-starts the exercises a physio once taught him. A few days later, the back-pain has improved and most other pains have subsided as well. Yet a dull and nagging pain around his left shoulder and arm persists.

He is tempted to see his GP, but his wife is fiercely alternative. She was also the one who dissuaded  Tom from taking Statins for his high cholesterol and put him on Garlic pills instead. Now she gives Tom a bottle of her Rescue Remedy, but after a week of taking it Tom’s condition is unchanged. His wife therefore persuades him to consult alternative practitioners for his ‘shoulder problem’. Thus he sees a succession of her favourite clinicians.

THE CHIROPRACTOR examines Tom’s spine and diagnoses subluxations to be the root cause of his problem. Tom thus receives a series of spinal manipulations and feels a little improved each time. But he is disappointed that the pain in the left shoulder and arm returns. His wife therefore makes another appointment for him.

THE ENERGY HEALER diagnoses a problem with Tom’s vital energy as the root cause of his persistent pain. Tom thus receives a series of healing sessions and feels a little improved each time. But he is disappointed that the pain in the left shoulder and arm returns. His wife therefore makes another appointment for him.

THE REFLEXOLOGIST examines Tom’s foot and diagnoses knots on the sole of his foot to cause energy blockages which are the root cause of his problem. Tom thus receives a series of most agreeable foot massages and feels a little improved each time. But he is disappointed that the pain in the left shoulder and arm returns. His wife therefore makes another appointment for him.

THE ACUPUNCTURIST examines Tom’s pulse and tongue and diagnoses a chi deficiency to be the root cause of his problem. Tom thus receives a series of acupuncture treatments and feels a little improved each time. But he is disappointed that the pain in the left shoulder and arm returns. His wife therefore makes another appointment for him.

THE NATUROPATH examines Tom and diagnoses some form of auto-intoxication as the root cause of his problem. Tom thus receives a full program of detox and feels a little improved each time. But he is disappointed that the pain in the left shoulder and arm returns. His wife therefore makes another appointment for him.

THE HOMEOPATH takes a long and detailed history and diagnoses a problem with Tom’s vital force to be the root cause of his pain. Tom thus receives a homeopathic remedy tailor-made for his needs and feels a little improved after taking it for a few days. But he is disappointed that the pain in the left shoulder and arm returns. His wife therefore tries to make another appointment for him.

But this time, Tom had enough. His pain has not really improved and he is increasingly feeling unwell.

At the risk of a marital dispute, he consults his GP. The doctor looks up Tom’s history, asks a few questions, conducts a brief physical examination, and arranges for Tom to see a specialist. A cardiologist diagnoses Tom to suffer from coronary heart disease due to a stenosis in one of his coronary arteries. She explains that Tom’s dull pain in the left shoulder and arm is a rather typical symptom of this condition.

Tom has to have a stent put into the affected coronary artery, receives several medications to lower his cholesterol and blood pressure, and is told to take up regular exercise, lose weight and make several other changes to his stressful life-style. Tom’s wife is told in no uncertain terms to stop dissuading her husband from taking his prescribed medicines, and the couple are both sent to see a dietician who offers advice and recommends a course on healthy cooking. Nobody leaves any doubt that not following this complex (holistic!) package of treatments and advice would be a serious risk to Tom’s life.

It has taken a while, but finally Tom is pain-free. More importantly, his prognosis has dramatically improved. The team who now look after him have no doubt that a major heart attack had been imminent, and Tom could easily have died had he continued to listen to the advice of multiple non-medically trained clinicians.

The root cause of his condition was misdiagnosed by all of them. In fact, the root cause was the atherosclerotic degeneration in his arteries. This may not be fully reversible, but even if the atherosclerotic process cannot be halted completely, it can be significantly slowed down such that he can live a full life.

My advice based on this invented and many real stories of a very similar nature is this:

  • alternative practitioners are often good at pampering their patients;
  • this may contribute to some perceived clinical improvements;
  • in turn, this perceived benefit can motivate patients to continue their treatment despite residual symptoms;
  • alternative practitioner’s claims about ‘root causes’ and holistic care are usually pure nonsense;
  • their pampering may be agreeable, but it can undoubtedly cost lives.
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