I missed this article by Canadian vascular surgeons when it came out in 2018. It is well-argued, and I think you should read it in full, if you can get access (it’s behind a pay wall). It contains interesting details about the anti-vax attitude of doctors of integrative medicine (something we discussed before), as well as the most dubious things that go on in the ‘Cleveland Clinic’. Here is at least the abstract of the article:
Evidence-based medicine, first described in 1992, offers a clear, systematic, and scientific approach to the practice of medicine. Recently, the non-evidence-based practice of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) 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 CAM may cause harm to patients through interactions with evidence-based medications or if patients choose to forego evidence-based care. CAM may also put financial strain on patients as most CAM expenditures are paid out-of-pocket. Despite these drawbacks, patients continue to use CAM due to media promotion of CAM therapies, dissatisfaction with conventional healthcare, and a desire for more holistic care. Given the increasing demand for CAM, many medical institutions now offer CAM services. Recently, there has been controversy surrounding the leaders of several CAM centres based at a highly respected academic medical institution, as they publicly expressed anti-vaccination views. These controversies demonstrate the non-evidence-based philosophies that run deep within CAM that are contrary to the evidence-based care that academic medical institutions should provide. Although there are financial incentives for institutions to provide CAM, it is important to recognize that this legitimizes CAM and may cause harm to patients. The poor regulation of CAM allows for the continued distribution of products and services that have not been rigorously tested for safety and efficacy. Governments in Australia and England have successfully improved regulation of CAM and can serve as a model to other countries.
Those who have been following this blog a little know how much I agree with these authors. In fact, in the peer-reviewed literature, I have been publishing similar arguments for almost 20 years, e.g:
- Integrative medicine: not a carte blanche for untested nonsense. Ernst E. Arch Intern Med 2002. PMID 12153386
- Disentangling integrative medicine Ernst E. Mayo Clin Proc 2004 – Review. PMID 15065622
- Integrated medicine. Ernst E. J Intern Med 2012. PMID 21682782 Free article.
- Integrative medicine: more than the promotion of unproven treatments? Ernst E. Med J Aust 2016. PMID 26985838
The Indian AYUSH quacks are rarely out of the headlines these days. After recently promoting homeopathy for the coronavirus epidemic, they are at it yet again. This time they seem to want us to believe that homeopathy is an effective cancer therapy. And guess who is helping them promote this dangerous claim? Yes, it’s the “Pyromaniac In a Field of (Integrative) Straw Men”, Michael Dixon!
“Time for integration has come and it is not because allopathic medicines fail in treatment but rather it is the demand of the people and patients worldwide,” said Dr Michael Dixon, Chair-College of Medicine and Integrated Health, UK, and Visiting Professor, University of Westminster and University College London, while inaugurating the two-day ‘International Conference on Integrative Oncology 2020. The ICIO 2020 is held in Indai in association with Central Health & FW Ministry, AYUSH/TCAM Ministry, all AYUSH/TCAM research councils and the governments of Kerala and Maharashtra, and National AYUSH Mission and organised by the Global Homeopathy Foundation (GHF).
Dr Dixon called upon integration of various medical streams while combating diseases. He pointed out that anti-microbial resistance, over-prescription of opiates and over-prescription of conventional medicines have compounded the situation. “Enormous issues persist back in United Kingdom (UK), National Health Services (NHS) England banned herbal and homoeopathic medicines while Royal College of General Practitioners asked general practitioners not to offer Homoeopathy and National Institute for Clinical Excellence changed guidelines on palliative care and back pain,” said Dr Dixon.
However, he said the good news is that at last AYUSH has arrived in UK with the College of Medicine and Integrated Health taking the lead. “Integration of medical systems is of paramount importance in oncology for prevention, treatment, treating side-effects of conventional medicine and preventing recurrence.”
Those who address the inaugural function include:
- Dr Jayesh Sanghavi, vice- chairman GHF,
- Dr T K Harindranath, president, Indian Homoeopathic Medical Association,
- Dr Piyush Joshi, secretary general, Homoeopathic Medical Association of India,
- Dr Eswaradas, chairman, GHF, Dr Issac Mathai, Soukya Holistic Clinic,
- Dr Velavan, Radiation Oncologist, Erode Cancer Centre,
- Dr Sandeep Roy, chairman, organising committee ICIO 2020,
- Dr Madhavan Nambiar IAS (retd), Patron GHF
- Dr Sreevals G Menon, Managing Trustee, GHF
Around 25 papers are being presented at the summit. Two of them stand out, in my view:
- Dr Vinu Krishnan, member, sub-committee on cancer, Central Council for Research in Homoeopathy, New Delhi, Analysis and observations of stage 3 and 4 lung cancers using homoeopathic interventions
- Dr Ravi, associate professor with Virar Homoeopathic Medical College, Mumbai, Clinical assessment of homeopathy and its role in survival in 3rd and 4th stage cancers
I find it imperative to point out that, according to the best evidence available to date, there is no reason to believe that:
- Homeopathy is effective in stage 3 and 4 lung cancers
- Homeopathy has positive effects on cancer survival
In my view, anyone who makes desperate cancer patients believe otherwise or supports conferences where such notions are being promoted is a dangerous charlatan.
In case you are new to this blog and have not heard of Dr Dixon, allow me to alert you to 4 previous posts:
It has been reported that Brazil and India will collaborate in the promotion of quackery! Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have just signed several agreements on collaboration. Agreement 8 is particularly intriguing:
8. Memo of agreement for cooperation in Traditional Medicine and Homeopathy
We seek to promote and develop bilateral cooperation in the field of traditional medicine and homeopathy. The areas of cooperation provided for in the instrument include exchange of experience in teaching regulations, practices, medicines and non-medicine therapies; knowledge promotion, exchange of training for therapists, health professionals, scientists, teaching professionals and students; and development of joint research, besides educational and training programs.
Homeopathy, already a recognized medical specialty in Brazil, is currently offered for free by the Brazilian national healthcare system. Other so-called alternative medicines (SCAMs) employed in the Brazilian healthcare system include:
- spiritual healing,
- crystal healing,
Homeopathy and acupuncture are also recognized by the Brazilian Federal Council and both are taught in the most prestigious public Universities, in medical, veterinary, public health and nursing schools.
India has gone one step further by establishing its AYUSH ministry. It registers SCAM practitioners considered ‘indigenous’ by the Indian government under a separate board. The SCAMs thus regulated are:
- Yoga and Naturopathy,
- Unani and Tibbi,
In India, practitioners are taught some of these subjects as MBBS ( Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery). The graduates are then considered to be ‘doctors’. In Brazil, homeopathy and acupuncture are practiced by medical doctors. Brazilian citizens are thus misled to believe that these SCAMs are evidence-based.
So, what this ‘bilateral co-operation’ is going to achieve? Narendra Nayak (President of the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations and former Assistant Professor of Biochemistry in Mangalore) and Natalia Pasternak (President of the Instituto Questão de Ciência in São Paulo) are less than optimistic:
Exchange of ‘technology’ of so called ‘psychic surgery’ of quacks like the late José Arigo, “the surgeon with the rusty knife”, with specialists of gaumutra (urine of India’s allegedly indigenous cows) whose concoction is supposed to be a panacea for 440 diseases? Is Brazil going to export to India the peculiar surgical techniques of the “medium” John of God, recently arrested, not for years of practicing unlicensed medicine and hurting people, but for sexual harassment and rape? Don’t get the wrong message, we are very glad John of God was convicted, and very glad for the brave women who came forward, but we cannot ignore the fact that he was never bothered by the authorities for placing people under his (usually not quite clean) knife.
Since India and Brazil are leaders in sugar production, are they going to support Homeopathy? Also the use of alcohol to produce their tinctures?
Again, we wonder why India and Brazil are going for an alleged system of medicine called homeopathy which is nowhere in the mainstream in the country of its origin -Germany. And why do they embrace it while the rest of the world is pushing back against homeopathy, after several scientific papers, reviews and meta-analyses showed beyond any reasonable doubt that it doesn’t work?
Brazil and India have much in common, both are rising developing economies, with a diverse population, trying to be true to their democratic ideals. Unfortunately, another similarity comes to light: the fact that presently both our countries are governed by rulers that have shown total disregard by scientific knowledge and evidence in many of their public policy decisions.
As heads of organizations that promote science and rational thinking in Brazil and India, we regret the decision of our governments to promote quackery as a legitimate subject of an international agreement.
I feel that individuals and organisations promoting critical thinking in other parts of the world should lend their support to these two courageous people.
At the heart of this story is Joseph Mercola, a dietary supplement entrepreneur and osteopath.
His website states that:
EVERYONE can benefit from Dr Mercola’s unparalleled knowledge. For expertise in alternative healthcare and high quality supplemental medicine, it’s hard to beat visionary Dr Joseph Mercola. The Chicago-based health wizard has his own website, Mercola.com (‘Take Control of Your Health’), but you can find so many of his health support products right here at Evolution Organics. Our customers swear by them. They love the diversity of the range, and that the products are priced affordably, meaning that everyone can benefit from Dr Mercola’s vast experience and unmatched know-how. And it’s not just men, women and children who can feel better ‘the Dr Mercola way’ – his brand includes health support products for pets, too.
However, an article in the Washington Post tells a different story; allow me to quote a few excerpts:
The National Vaccine Information Center was founded in 1982 by Barbara Loe Fisher, who has said that her son was injured by a vaccine. The group claimed credit this year for helping to defeat legislation in a dozen states that would have made it harder for parents to opt out of vaccinating their children. At the beginning of last year’s flu season, Fisher and Mercola appeared in a YouTube video urging people to be skeptical about flu shots. Mercola claimed that vaccines have been associated with “deaths and permanent neurological complications,” and he said vitamin D supplements were among “far more effective, less expensive and less risky alternatives.” … Fisher said in an interview that Mercola has asked for nothing in exchange for his donations and that the National Vaccine Information Center does not sell or advertise Mercola’s products on its site. “I do not take funding for a quid pro quo,” she said. “When [Mercola] called me, he said, ‘I admire your work. I’d like to help you.’ ” The center’s homepage, which the group says was visited more than 1.2 million times last year, displays Mercola.com’s logo. An affiliated website run by Fisher’s group refers numerous times to Mercola.com as one of the most popular health and wellness websites…
In recent years, the center has been at the forefront of a movement that has led some parents to forgo or delay immunizing their children against vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles… The Northern Virginia-based National Vaccine Information Center lists Mercola.com as a partner on its homepage and links to the website, where readers can learn about and purchase Mercola’s merchandise…Asked if his companies benefit from his donations to the anti-vaccine group, Mercola said in an email that “being an adversary to powerful industries is not a positive for a business like mine.” …
On this blog, I have repeatedly warned that many so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) practitioners recommend against vaccinations. Specifically implicated are:
- Physicians practising integrative medicine
- Doctors of anthroposophical medicine
We knew about the ‘ideology’ and the misinformation pushing SCAM-related anti-vaccination sentiments. The article in the Washington Post is a stark reminder of the financial interests behind all this. As a result, SCAM-use is associated with low vaccination-uptake (as we have discussed ad nauseam – see for instance here, here, here and here). Anyone who needs more information will find it by searching this blog. Anyone claiming that this is all my exaggeration might look at papers which have nothing to do with me (there are plenty more for those who are willing to conduct a Medline search):
- Lehrke P, Nuebling M, Hofmann F, Stoessel U. Attitudes of homeopathic physicians towards vaccination. Vaccine. 2001;19:4859–4864. doi: 10.1016/S0264-410X(01)00180-3. [PubMed]
- Halper J, Berger LR. Naturopaths and childhood immunizations: Heterodoxy among the unorthodox. Pediatrics. 1981;68:407–410. [PubMed]
- Colley F, Haas M. Attitudes on immunization: A survey of American chiropractors. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics. 1994;17:584–590. [PubMed]
Many patients with chronic pain (CP) are prescribed opioids, a situation which has led to the much-discussed opioid crisis. Integrative medicine (IM), which combines pharmacological and so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), has been proposed as a solution. Yet, the role of SCAM therapies in reducing opioid use remains unclear.
This systematic review explored the effectiveness of the IM approach or any of the SCAM therapies to reduce or cease opioid use in CP patients. Electronic searches yielded 5,200 citations. Twenty-three studies were selected. Eight studies were randomized controlled trials, seven were retrospective studies, four studies were prospective observational, three were cross-sectional, and one was quasi-experimental. The majority of the studies showed that opioid use was reduced significantly after using IM/SCAM. Cannabinoids were among the most commonly investigated approaches in reducing opioid use, followed by multidisciplinary approaches, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and acupuncture. The majority of the studies had limitations related to sample size, duration, and study design.
The authors concluded that there is a small but defined body of literature demonstrating positive preliminary evidence that the IM approach including SCAM therapies can help in reducing opioid use. As the opioid crisis continues to grow, it is vital that clinicians and patients be adequately informed regarding the evidence and opportunities for IM/SCAM therapies for CP.
I am unimpressed by this review.
And here is why:
- Because of their design, most of the included studies do not allow any conclusions about cause and effect.
- The 8 RCTs that would allow such conclusions are mostly of poor quality.
- Some of the 8 RCTs are not even what the review authors claim to be. Here is just one example:
Background: Current levels and dangers of opioid use in the U.S. warrant the investigation of harm-reducing treatment alternatives.
Purpose: A preliminary, historical, cohort study was used to examine the association between enrollment in the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program (MCP) and opioid prescription use.
Methods: Thirty-seven habitual opioid using, chronic pain patients (mean age = 54 years; 54% male; 86% chronic back pain) enrolled in the MCP between 4/1/2010 and 10/3/2015 were compared to 29 non-enrolled patients (mean age = 60 years; 69% male; 100% chronic back pain). We used Prescription Monitoring Program opioid records over a 21 month period (first three months prior to enrollment for the MCP patients) to measure cessation (defined as the absence of opioid prescriptions activity during the last three months of observation) and reduction (calculated in average daily intravenous [IV] morphine dosages). MCP patient-reported benefits and side effects of using cannabis one year after enrollment were also collected.
Results: By the end of the 21 month observation period, MCP enrollment was associated with 17.27 higher age- and gender-adjusted odds of ceasing opioid prescriptions (CI 1.89 to 157.36, p = 0.012), 5.12 higher odds of reducing daily prescription opioid dosages (CI 1.56 to 16.88, p = 0.007), and a 47 percentage point reduction in daily opioid dosages relative to a mean change of positive 10.4 percentage points in the comparison group (CI -90.68 to -3.59, p = 0.034). The monthly trend in opioid prescriptions over time was negative among MCP patients (-0.64mg IV morphine, CI -1.10 to -0.18, p = 0.008), but not statistically different from zero in the comparison group (0.18mg IV morphine, CI -0.02 to 0.39, p = 0.081). Survey responses indicated improvements in pain reduction, quality of life, social life, activity levels, and concentration, and few side effects from using cannabis one year after enrollment in the MCP (ps<0.001).
Conclusions: The clinically and statistically significant evidence of an association between MCP enrollment and opioid prescription cessation and reductions and improved quality of life warrants further investigations on cannabis as a potential alternative to prescription opioids for treating chronic pain.
This study is evidently NOT an RCT!
Most of the 8 RCTs investigate whether SCAM is useful for weaning opioid-dependent patients off their drug. To equate this with the question whether IM/SCAM can reduce or cease opioid use in CP patients is, I think, wrong. The way to reduce opioid use in CP patients is to prescribe less opioids. And for prescribing less opioids, we need no SCAM but we need to remember what we learned in medical school: opioids are not for routine treatment of CP!
So, why do the authors of this review try to mislead us?
Could it have something to do with some of their affiliations and the bias that goes with it?
- Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, North York, Ontario, Canada.
- Australian Research Centre in Complementary and Integrative Medicine, University of Technology Sydney, Ultimo, Australia.
- Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, San Diego, California, USA.
What do you think?
Leah Bracknell, started raising funds ~3 years ago for alternative cures of her stage 4 lung cancer. Bracknell who, after her acting career, had become a yoga teacher said at the time that, in the UK, she was given “a fairly brutal and bleak diagnosis, but one I am determined to challenge”. Her partner, Jez Hughes, who helped with the fund-raising said the money would be used for “immunotherapy and integrative medicine, which are seeing previously ‘incurable’ cancers going into complete remission”.
The team thus raised over £50 000 and went to Germany, a country that is well-known for its liberal stance on quackery. In Britain, there are just a few physicians who are devoted to this or that alternative medicine. In Germany, there are thousands of them. In addition, Germany has a healthcare profession called the ‘Heilpraktiker’, a poorly-regulated left-over from the Third Reich. A Heilpraktiker has not studied medicine, yet is legally permitted to make all sorts of unsubstantiated claims and treat many serious diseases, including cancer, with unproven therapies.
It was reported that Leah Bracknell went to the ‘Hallwang Private Oncology Clinic’, an institution which claims that “Healing-oriented and individualised medicine considers all aspects of lifestyle and not only relies on conventional treatments and recent cutting-edge developments in medicine, but also takes into account our experience in natural remedies and is open for alternative treatment options in order to work in synergy with conventional treatment strategies. We always try to be as natural as possible and as conventional as needed to achieve the best results. Integrative Health Concepts are successfully used in many diseases including malignant diseases, neurological disorders as well as in prevention and rehabilitation.” The SCAMs used there include homeopathy, micronutrients, natural supplements, whole body hyperthermia and ozone therapy.
The evidence does not support these or other alternative cancer ‘cures’. In fact, the very notion of an alternative cancer cure is nonsensical: if an alternative cancer therapy showed even the slightest shimmer of promise, it would get investigated and, if shown to work, become part of routine oncology. The suggestion that there are treatments out there that are effective, yet shunned by oncologists because they originate from nature or from some exotic tradition is insulting and utterly barmy.
Yet cancer patients can easily fall for such claims. They are understandably desperate and listen to anyone promissing a cure. Therefore, they all too easily believe in weird conspiracy theories of ‘Big Parma’, the evil ‘establishment’ etc. who allegedly suppress the news of an effective therapy, as it might threaten their profits. If they do fall for such lies, they not only lose pots of money but also their lives.
Last Wednesday, it was reported that Leah Bracknell had died of cancer.
The World Federation of Chiropractic (WFC) claim to have been at the forefront of the global development of chiropractic. Representing the interests of the profession in over 90 countries worldwide, the WFC has advocated, defended and promoted the profession across its 7 world regions. Now, the WFC have formulated 20 principles setting out who they are, what they stand for, and how chiropractic as a global health profession can, in their view, impact on nations so that populations can thrive and reach their full potential. Here are the 20 principles (in italics followed by some brief comments by me in normal print):
1. We envision a world where people of all ages, in all countries, can access the benefits of chiropractic.
That means babies and infants! What about the evidence?
2. We are driven by our mission to advance awareness, utilization and integration of chiropractic internationally.
One could almost suspect that the drive is motivated by misleading the public about the risks and benefits of spinal manipulation for financial gain.
3. We believe that science and research should inform care and policy decisions and support calls for wider access to chiropractic.
If science and research truly did inform care, it would soon be chiropractic-free.
4. We maintain that chiropractic extends beyond the care of patients to the promotion of better health and the wellbeing of our communities.
The best example to show that this statement is a politically correct platitude is the fact that so many chiropractors are (educated to become) convinced that vaccinations are undesirable or harmful.
5. We champion the rights of chiropractors to practice according to their training and expertise.
I am not sure what this means. Could it mean that they must practice according to their training and expertise, even if both fly in the face of the evidence?
6. We promote evidence-based practice: integrating individual clinical expertise, the best available evidence from clinical research, and the values and preferences of patients.
So far, I have seen little to convince me that chiropractors care a hoot about the best available evidence and plenty to fear that they supress it, if it does not enhance their business.
7. We are committed to supporting our member national associations through advocacy and sharing best practices for the benefit of patients and society.
Much more likely for the benefit of chiropractors, I suspect.
8. We acknowledge the role of chiropractic care, including the chiropractic adjustment, to enhance function, improve mobility, relieve pain and optimize wellbeing.
Of course, you have to pretend that chiropractic adjustments (of subluxations) are useful. However, evidence would be better than pretence.
9. We support research that investigates the methods, mechanisms, and outcomes of chiropractic care for the benefit of patients, and the translation of research outcomes into clinical practice.
And if it turns out to be to the detriment of the patient? It seems to me that you seem to know the result of the research before you started it. That does not bode well for its reliability.
10. We believe that chiropractors are important members of a patient’s healthcare team and that interprofessional approaches best facilitate optimum outcomes.
Of course you do believe that. Why don’t you show us some evidence that your belief is true?
11. We believe that chiropractors should be responsible public health advocates to improve the wellbeing of the communities they serve.
Of course you do believe that. But, in fact, many chiropractors are actively undermining the most important public health measure, vaccination.
12. We celebrate individual and professional diversity and equality of opportunity and represent these values throughout our Board and committees.
What you should be celebrating is critical assessment of all chiropractic concepts. This is the only way to make progress and safeguard the interests of the patient.
13. We believe that patients have a fundamental right to ethical, professional care and the protection of enforceable regulation in upholding good conduct and practice.
The truth is that many chiropractors violate medical ethics on a daily basis, for instance, by not obtaining fully informed consent.
14. We serve the global profession by promoting collaboration between and amongst organizations and individuals who support the vision, mission, values and objectives of the WFC.
Yes, those who support your vision, mission, values and objectives are your friends; those who dare criticising them are your enemies. It seems far from you to realise that criticism generates progress, perhaps not for the WFC, but for the patient.
15. We support high standards of chiropractic education that empower graduates to serve their patients and communities as high value, trusted health professionals.
For instance, by educating students to become anti-vaxxers or by teaching them obsolete concepts such as adjustment of subluxation?
16. We believe in nurturing, supporting, mentoring and empowering students and early career chiropractors.
You are surpassing yourself in the formulation of platitudes.
17. We are committed to the delivery of congresses and events that inspire, challenge, educate, inform and grow the profession through respectful discourse and positive professional development.
You are surpassing yourself in the formulation of platitudes.
18. We believe in continuously improving our understanding of the biomechanical, neurophysiological, psychosocial and general health effects of chiropractic care.
Even if there are no health effects?!?
19. We advocate for public statements and claims of effectiveness for chiropractic care that are honest, legal, decent and truthful.
Advocating claims of effectiveness in the absence of proof of effectiveness is neither honest, legal, decent or truthful, in my view.
20. We commit to an EPIC future for chiropractic: evidence-based, people-centered, interprofessional and collaborative.
And what do you propose to do with the increasing mountain of evidence suggesting that your spinal adjustments are not evidence-based as well as harmful to the health and wallets of your patients?
What do I take out of all this? Not a lot!
Perhaps mainly this: the WFC is correct when stating that, in the interests of the profession in over 90 countries worldwide, the WFC has advocated, defended and promoted the profession across its 7 world regions. What is missing here is a small but important addition to the sentence: in the interests of the profession and against the interest of patients, consumers or public health in over 90 countries worldwide, the WFC has advocated, defended and promoted the profession across its 7 world regions.
In Switzerland, so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) is officially recognised within the healthcare system and mainly practised in conjunction with conventional medicine. So far no research has been published into the attitude towards, training in and offer of SCAM among paediatricians in Switzerland. This survey addresses this gap by investigating these topics with an online survey of paediatricians in Switzerland.
It employed a 19-item, self-reporting questionnaire among all ordinary and junior members of the Swiss Society of Paediatrics (SSP). A comparison of the study sample with the population of all paediatricians registered with the Swiss Medical Association (FMH) allowed an assessment of the survey’s representativeness. The data analysis was performed on the overall group level as well as for predefined subgroups (e.g. sex, age, language, workplace and professional experience).
A total of 1890 paediatricians were approached and 640, from all parts of Switzerland, responded to the survey (response rate 34%). Two thirds of respondents were female, were aged between 35 and 55 years, trained as paediatric generalist and worked in a practice. Apart from young paediatricians in training, the study sample was representative of all Swiss paediatricians.
According to the authors’ statistics, the results suggest that
- 23% had attended training in SCAM, most frequently in phytotherapy, homeopathy, acupuncture/traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and anthroposophic medicine
- 8% had a federal certificate in one or more SCAM methods.
- 44% did not routinely ask their patients about their use of SCAM.
- 84% did not offer SCAM.
- 65% were interested in SCAM courses and training.
- 16% provided SCAM services to their patients.
- 97% were asked by patients/parents about SCAM therapies.
- More than half of the responding paediatricians use SCAM for themselves or their families.
- 42% were willing to contribute to paediatric SCAM research.
The authors concluded that in a representative sample of paediatricians in Switzerland, the overall attitude towards SCAM was positive, emphasised by great interest in SCAM training, willingness to contribute to SCAM research and, in particular, by the high rate of paediatricians using SCAM for themselves and their families. However, given the strong demand for SCAM for children, the rate of paediatricians offering SCAM is rather low, despite the official recognition of SCAM in Switzerland. Among the various reasons for this, insufficient knowledge and institutional barriers deserve special attention. The paediatricians’ great interest in SCAM training and support for SCAM research offer key elements for the future development of complementary and integrative medicine for children in Switzerland.
SCAM suffers from acute survey mania. I am anxiously waiting for a survey of SCAM use in left-handed, diabetic policemen in retirement from Devon. But every other variation of the theme has been exploited. And why not? It provides the authors with a most welcome addition to their publication list. And, of course, it lends itself very nicely to SCAM-promotion. Sadly, there is not much else that such surveys offer.
Except perhaps for an opportunity to do an alternative evaluation of their results. Here is an assessment the devil’s advocate in me proposes. Based on the reasonable assumption that those 34% of paediatricians who responded did so because they had an interest in SCAM, and the 64% who did not reply couldn’t care less, it is tempting to do an analysis of the entire population of Swiss paediatricians. Here are my findings:
- Hardly anyone had attended training in SCAM.
- Hardly anyone had a federal certificate in one or more SCAM methods.
- Very few did not routinely ask their patients about their use of SCAM.
- Hardly anyone offered SCAM.
- Very few were interested in SCAM courses and training.
- Hardly anyone provided SCAM services to their patients.
- Quite a few were asked by patients/parents about SCAM therapies.
- Very few paediatricians use SCAM for themselves or their families.
- Few were willing to contribute to paediatric SCAM research.
These results might be closer to the truth but they have one very important drawback: they do not lend themselves to drawing the SCAM-promotional conclusions formulated by the authors.
Oh Yes, reality can be a painful thing!
A team from Israel conducted a pragmatic trial to evaluate the impact of So-called Alternative Medicine (SCAM) treatments on postoperative symptoms. Patients ≥ 18 years referred to SCAM treatments by surgical medical staff were allocated to standard of care with SCAM treatment (SCAM group) or without SCAM. Referral criteria were patient preference and practitioner availability. SCAM treatments included Acupuncture, Reflexology, or Guided Imagery. The primary outcome variable was the change from baseline in symptom severity, measured by Visual Analogue Scale (VAS).
A total of 1127 patients were enrolled, 916 undergoing 1214 SCAM treatments and 211 controls. Socio-demographic characteristics were similar in both groups. Patients in the SCAM group had more severe baseline symptoms. Symptom reduction was greater in the SCAM group compared with controls. No significant adverse events were reported with any of the CAM therapies.
The authors concluded that SCAM treatments provide additional relief to Standard Of Care (SOC) for perioperative symptoms. Larger randomized control trial studies with longer follow-ups are needed to confirm these benefits.
Imagine a situation where postoperative patients are being asked “do you want merely our standard care or do you prefer having a lot of extra care, fuss and attention? Few would opt for the former – perhaps just 211 out of a total of 1127, as in the trial above. Now imagine being one of those patients receiving a lot of extra care and attention; would you not feel better, and would your symptoms not improve faster?
I am sure you have long guessed where I am heading. The infamous A+B versus B design has been discussed often enough on this blog. Researchers using it can be certain that they will generate a positive result for their beloved SCAM – even if the SCAM itself is utterly ineffective. The extra care and attention plus the raised expectation will do the trick. If the researchers want to make extra sure that their bogus treatments come out of this study smelling of roses, they can – like our Israeli investigators – omit to randomise patients to the two groups and let them chose according to their preference.
To cut a long story short: this study had zero chance to yield a negative result.
- As such it was not a test but a promotion of SCAM.
- As such it was not science but pseudo science.
- As such it was not ethical but unethical.
WHEN WILL WE FINALLY STOP PUBLISHING SUCH MISLEADING NONSENSE?
I recently received this unexpected and surprising email:
I wanted to point out an article that published last month in the New England Journal of Medicine Catalyst that gets to the root of why we are not solving the nation’s current epidemics of chronic pain, obesity, opioids, suicide, and cardiovascular disease.
My co-authors included Dr. Eric Schoomaker, the former surgeon general of the Army; Dr. Tracy Gaudet, who leads cultural transformation at the Veterans Health Administration; and Dr. James Marzolf, the chief health and data analyst in Dr. Gaudet’s office.
In the article Finding the Cause of the Crises: Opioids, Pain, Suicide, Obesity, and Other “Epidemics”, we show how our nation’s response to our current epidemics are tackling the wrong problems.
For example, take the opioid epidemic. The response has been to restrict opioids and focus on other drugs. This narrow approach is compounding the problem. The root cause is that we don’t manage chronic pain appropriately. We need a major roll out of non-pharmacological approaches for pain.
Instead of treating pain with a pill, we need to pay attention to the whole person in mind, body, and spirit. When we do this, we may find that non-drug approaches to treating the person are more appropriate, and treat not only the pain, but the suffering that often accompanies it.
The article describes how systems like the Military and Veterans Health Administration are doing this with transformative approaches that embrace whole person, integrative health.
The good news is that the answers are out there. The entire nation can do this, and we can start now.
Dr. Wayne Jonas
In case you don’t know who my ‘friend’ Wayne is (I did mention him before here and here, for instance), here is a concise summary of his background. As you doubtlessly do know, the NEJM is a (perhaps even the most) respected medical journal. I therefore tried to find the article there and was amazed not to find it. Then I realised that Wayne said it was published not in the NEJM but in the ‘New England Journal of Medicine Catalyst’, a very different proposition.
The New England Journal of Medicine Catalyst brings health care executives, clinical leaders, and clinicians together to share innovative ideas and practical applications for enhancing the value of health care delivery. From a network of top thought leaders, experts, and advisors, our digital publication, quarterly events, and qualified Insights Council provide real-life examples and actionable solutions to help organizations address urgent challenges affecting health care.
But what about the paper that Wayne so warmly recommends? It turns out to be little more than a promotional stunt for integrative medicine. Here is an excerpt from it:
It is often a surprise to people that two of the largest health care systems in the country are trying to radically redesign what they do to provide more whole-person and integrative care. These two systems are run by the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and collectively care for over 20 million people. The nation can learn from their efforts.
The need for reform emerged after the turn of this century when leaders in the DoD and VHA began to hold informal meetings under the title “From Healthcare to Health.” Over the course of those meetings, the participants recognized the failure of their health care systems to get at the underlying causes of chronic disease. In 2009, they secured the support of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to change overall military doctrine and guidance to a radically holistic approach called “Total Force Fitness,” which subsequently led to health and community innovations. An example of these redesign innovations was the Defense and Veterans’ Pain Management Task Force and Report and the resulting strategy that preceded the National Academy of Medicine’s report on pain in America.
Other innovations included the Healthy Base Initiative and the Performance Triad, the latter of which focuses on the importance of asking all patients about their sleep, nutrition, and physical activity. All services — Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Special Forces — continue to shift to whole-person models that seek to implement behavioral and complementary approaches. For example, >6000 providers have been trained in and routinely use Battlefield Acupuncture for pain.
The transformation currently underway in the VHA, which goes under the name “Whole Health,” is also an offshoot of that leadership dialogue from 20 years ago. In the Whole Health approach, the emphasis is to empower and equip people to take charge of their health and well-being. In this approach, trained peers help veterans explore their sense of mission and purpose, and well-being programs focus on skill-building and support for self-care. These elements, in addition to person-centered, holistic clinical care, create the Whole Health delivery system. VHA facilities are shifting from a system designed around points of clinical care (in which the primary focus is on disease management) to one that is based in a partnership across time (in which the primary focus is on whole health). Clinical encounters are essential but not sufficient. This health system is designed to focus not only on treatment, but also on self-empowerment, self-healing, and self-care.
This radical redesign is built on decades of VHA work enhancing its integrative approaches with innovations such as Patient-Aligned Care Teams, Primary Care Mental Health Integration, peer-to-peer support, group access to mental health services, and the increasing use of complementary medicine approaches. These changes laid the groundwork for the kind of radical redesign now underway in the VHA and that is needed in all national health care delivery systems.
In 2011, the VHA established an Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation to further redefine health care delivery and to oversee this unique approach. Whole Health has begun rapid deployment across the entire VHA system, starting with 18 VHA medical centers in 2018 and with a planned expansion to all VHA medical centers by the end of 2022. System-wide implementation will require an estimated $556 million over 5 years.
When fully implemented, operating costs for this shift are projected to represent 1% of the VHA annual budget. This implementation will involve hiring almost 6,400 new staff, the majority for positions that did not previously exist in the VHA, including health coaches and peer health partners, nutritionists, acupuncturists, and yoga instructors. Whole Health is building access through group visits, peer-to-peer support, and the development of Personal Health Plans for every veteran — something everyone in the country could use. In addition, new payment codes have been created, allowing providers to capture and cover their time and efforts using relative value units (RVUs) and to track productivity.
Will Whole Health help to cure what ails health care? Current models suggest that it will. With improvement in health outcomes, there will be a reduction in the need for existing clinical and biomedical services. These models predict increased access and more proactive population health management. With the addition of these new Whole Health services, we project a 24.5% increase in access when fully deployed — without the addition of a single hospital bed or medical specialist. In addition, Whole Health exceeds cost neutrality and is conservatively estimated to return $2.19 for every dollar invested over 6 years.
These returns reflect net cost avoidance and are derived from reductions in the need and demand for existing clinical health services — exactly what the nation needs in order to reduce chronic disease crises and contain costs. The per capita savings or cost avoidance is modest, averaging $535 per veteran annually over the 6-year period. Cumulatively, however, this totals over $6.2 billion in cost avoidance. Given that the Whole Health approach will improve the health of veterans, many of whom are dealing with complex issues such as chronic pain, mental health conditions, and opioid use at a cost of about $1 per day per veteran, it is a financially sound, cost-effective change from the current health care paradigm.
So, does this change my mind about integrative medicine?
I’m afraid not! And Wayne fails to provide the slightest evidence that his concepts amount to more than wishful thinking (note how he first mentions predictions of cost savings and, in the next paragraph, pretends they are a reality). I simply do not believe that adding a few unproven therapies to our routine healthcare and wrapping the mixture into politically correct platitudes will improve anything. This cannot work from a theoretical standpoint and, crucially, there is no empirical evidence that it does improve anything else but the income stream of charlatans.
If healthcare needs reform, then let’s reform it! Adding cow pie to apple pie is not a solution, it merely spoils what we have already. I am saying this now since 17 years when I published my first comment on integrative medicine. It was entitled Integrative medicine: not a carte blanche for untested nonsense. I do still think that it sums up the issue succinctly.