Jul 21, 2011

Chiropractors moving in on GPs’ turf

Chiropractors are moving in on the turf of the general practitioners by convincing new parents that they are a safe and effective alternative choice for their family’s primary health care, writes Loretta Marron.

Want your DNA fixed?  Does your immune system need a boost?  Are you worried about those nasty vaccinations?  Maybe your baby's sick?  Why not try the new doctor's in town?  -- after all, they offer a fabulous contribution, with drug and surgery free treatments that can "fix everything". Or can they? Chiropractors are moving in on the turf of the general practitioners  by convincing new parents that they are a safe and effective alternative choice for their family’s primary health care. The exploding market for complementary and alternative medicine has encouraged them to diversify away from just doing back and neck pain to promoting treatments to the lucrative market of young families. Parents want to protect their children from the dangers of over-prescribed drugs, such as antibiotics, and they understandably worry about any suggestions that vaccines contain toxic compounds, have a high risk of serious side effects and can cause Autism. Claiming that they can treat children of colds, ear infections, colic, bed-wetting, hyperactivity, asthma, autism and can even repair their DNA, chiropractic clinics are mimicking medical centres by using their own untested diagnostic devices that brandish automatically generated government approval numbers.  In reality these machines are little more than high-tech wizardry, with computerised bells and whistles designed to generate screen images that convince parents that their children are sick. Called "fundamentalist" chiropractors, they believe that most health conditions may be caused by the Vertebral Subluxation Complex (VSC), a term made up in the 19th century by Daniel Palmer, chiropractic's founder and religious leader. The Chiropractors' Association of Australia (CAA), the peak body for chiropractors, lists the VSC theory among its "core beliefs" and its vision statement includes plans to ensure that university courses teach it. After 10 years political lobbying, the CAA also recently announced that legislation had been passed so that all chiropractors can “use the title doctor". The CAA does not support vaccination and its board is closely associated with the controversial Australian Vaccine Network (AVN) with some of the clinics run by CAA senior figures listed as professional members including the CAA’s president, treasurer and a board member. The CAA is also working hard to brand chiropractic as the "most effective and cost-efficient health regime of first choice". In 2007 they hired MacGregor Public Relations, a firm that specialises in government lobbying and media relations, to "promote the chiropractic profession as primary health care practitioners" and to advance their aim to have "Chiropractic integrated into Public Hospitals and Public Health initiatives". Central to the CAA strategy is to influence health policy.  Since 2005, they have spent more than $500,000 in "government/political liaison" and they boast that they now know nearly every health minister and policy maker, including the opposition, on a first name basis. Even the Wiggles entertainer Anthony Fields, with a clear link to children, is an ambassador to their publicity arm, the Australian Spinal Research Foundation as (ASRF),  an organisation that only conducts VSC research.  The ASRF is also associated with the AVN and actively promotes anti-vaccination propaganda. Chiropractors, themselves not required to be vaccinated, are running clinics that encourage poorly informed parents to congregate together, increasing the exposure of their newborns to highly contagious diseases from other sick patients. There is nothing to stop an unvaccinated chiropractor with a seriously sick child at home, who has a highly contagious disease, from treating other people's babies at their clinics at the same time. Midwives, graduating from "health science" courses at universities, perhaps believing that chiropractic students are taught evidence-based medicine, are also referring new parents to the chiropractors who may have studied alongside them. New parents are a particularly vulnerable group and are understandably susceptible to suggestions of any natural intervention that may improve their family’s health and they are now inviting chiropractors, who may have been recently exposed to contagious diseases, into maternity wards to check their newborns. While Australia's regulatory authority for therapeutic goods, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, can address any medical claims made for therapeutic goods, there is no equivalent mechanism to challenge claims made for therapeutic services. Complaints submitted up to 12 months ago, relating to claims made on chiropractic websites for medical conditions, including a wide range of childhood conditions, vaccine preventable diseases and multiple sclerosis, remain unanswered.  The partnership of the national boards and the newly formed Australian Health Practitioners Agency (AHPRA), which supposedly regulates their respective members, is proving to be ineffective, and so for fundamentalist chiropractors, it remains "business as usual". It's not just chiropractors who are promoting some bogus services. Anyone who has a website can make claims relating to magical cures for major illnesses and, unless someone comes forward who is seriously harmed, individual state-based health complaints systems will not take them on -- so it remains a free for all. Homeopaths, Chinese medicine practitioners, and natural therapists are boasting that they can cure cancer, depression and autoimmune diseases with sometimes tragic results. The self-regulation system in place for alternative therapists, including some registered practitioners, has no external accountability. Medically trained doctors who speak out are vilified and accused of protecting their own turf.  Conspiracy theories abound against proven treatments, spread by these smooth talking faith healers, who offer little more than expensive placebos and mis-information. If you are a new parent, or someone recently diagnosed with a serious health conditions, my advice is to be wary of anyone who makes claims that are too good to be true unless they can provide some credible peer-reviewed research to support their claims.  Your health, or that of your children, may depend upon it.

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9 thoughts on “Chiropractors moving in on GPs’ turf

  1. Scott

    Although I don’t have children (and my parents vaccinated me!), so cant speak on that particularly matter, I have to say my chiro has given me the best long-term maintenance program I’ve ever had for my dodgy back.

    I see him about every 2 months now and for $45 a pop, to be able to continue without major back episodes, I cant fault him.

    And sure, the in-office marketing is a bit OTT, but my physio’s office is worse in that regard.

  2. Liz45

    LIke you SCOTT I have been going to a chiropractor for 27 years. I went to a Physiotherapist re my RSI and she used a technique to ‘stretch’ my neck, but made it too taut and my muscles went into spasm. It was awful. My GP then recommended this chiropractor who can’t cure me but can ‘put me back together’ when I aggravate my condition. I trust him totally. He doesn’t try and ‘preach’ this sort of thing to me at all.

    I do know that he does see newborn babies when they’re a few weeks or a couple of months old, just to check that their little spines etc are in alignment – sometimes the birthing process can cause shoulders etc to be ‘put out’? I think this can only be a good thing. Perhaps problems with spinal issues and walking problems could be prevented if more parents did this. But I’d be almost 100% certain that he wouldn’t behave in this manner. I’ll ask him next time I see him. We’re like old friends now! And his wife also!

    My kids were all vaccinated and my grandkids are too. My late sister had only 1 1/2 good lungs caused by her having measles twice prior to the age of one. She had her kids vaccinated also. We were passionate about it. If I have any more grandchildren, I intend to get vaccinated against whooping cough etc. In fact, it might be a good idea to ask my GP anyhow – just so I don’t pass it on to someone’s newborn or older child. It would be beyond awful! .

    I think many GP’s are conversant with not dishing out antibiotics upon request these days. In fact I often wonder if my second son’s poor teeth were caused by antibiotics when a baby – he used to get bronchitis! But in the face of severe complications, there was no choice – he used to get to being a very sick little baby! I think doctors realise that handing them out is not doing any favours to anyone. You never know when you just might need them, and then there’s an issue with having an immunity to them – not good!

    I’d certainly advise parents as you have Loretta. Your babies are just too precious to take any risks with.

  3. Lance Emerson

    Keep up the great work Loretta.

    I’ve recently submitted a complaint to the Australian Health Practitioners Agency (AHPA) against one local chiropractor advertising non evidence based claims in the local newspaper. For example, he was quoting outdated clinical guidelines from the US which, when you actually read them say clearly in big letters across the top of the document: “This document is no longer viewed as guidance for current medical practice”. He was also saying in his advert that chiropractic may cure hypertension when it can’t. He cherry picked a whole bunch of other data & quotes, mainly from old or not non peer-reviewed sources, with complete disregard to recent reputable evidence. Anything for a quick buck.

    Worse still, this “doctor” had a photo of himself manipulating a young child in the advert – even though there is absolutely NO evidence of the benefit of pediatric chiropractic. In fact a recent review of chiro cases published in the International Journal of Clinical Practice concluded that “Numerous deaths have occurred after chiropractic manipulations. The risks of this treatment far outweigh its benefit”. Why would anyone risk the health of their child with this information in mind?

    So far the AHPA office seem to be competently dealing with the case, but time will tell how it all goes. I agree on the need for much stronger regulation, but the really sad thing is, it will probably take a significant event, such as a child death to see proper regulation.

  4. Matt Hardin

    Have always liked the line “What do they call alternative medicine that works? Medicine!”

  5. Clytie

    I agree with your final paragraph, but I’m not convinced this applies to any significant number of chiropractors. I have seen several over the years, and they have helped me live with migraine and my autoimmune disease. Never do they claim to cure it.

    You appear to be conflating chiropractic treatment with denial of fact. That has certainly not been my experience.

    If there are a minority of practitioners doing the wrong thing (as there undoubtedly are in other health occupations, including GPs), then target the behaviour. Don’t blame all of a useful and hard-working profession.

  6. Charles Richardson

    “There is no equivalent mechanism to challenge claims made for therapeutic services.” Well no, except the good old-fashioned one of the police and the courts. These people are fraudsters; they should be in jail. What are the cops doing?

  7. loretta

    Not only are chiropractors proffering bogus advice and treatments to the parents of sick babies and children, they are also encouraging parents to list them as the primary health contact for their children at their school.

    They are working their way into the fabric of healthcare and misleading the community, not to mention people like AHPRA who should know better.

    Even their seminars (approved by the CAA for CPD points) often contain subluxation dogma and anti-vax material – and some have even included anti-vaxer Meryl Dorey on the list of speakers!

    eg Dynamic Growth Congress has 3.5 FLA hours – here is a quote from Meryl Dorey’s AVN website:
    “This is just going to be a very quick post to say that I’ve just returned from an inspiring and fun weekend at the Dynamic Growth conference, hosted by the Australian Spinal Research Foundation (ASRF) in Brisbane.”

    I thank the ASRF for their kind invitation to speak, and to all of the chiropractors, chiropractic students and recent graduates, CAs, naturopaths, homeopaths and others who took the time to come up to me and ask some very interesting questions, thank you as well!”

  8. Derek Holderman

    Nice article – just would like to elaborate on a point that is a pet peeve of mine.

    Anyone in Australia is actually allowed to call themselves “Dr” as long as they don’t mislead into thinking they have a qualification they don’t. In fact for some time in Australia the laws have stated that non-medical practitioners should use it only if it is made clear that they are not medical doctors for some time “i.e. Dr Cracker – Chiropractor”.

    As someone with a PhD I get a little bit miffed when people keep rolling out the medical doctors should be the only ones calling themselves doctor card and get aggrieved and holier-than-thou when others take the title. ‘Doctor’ comes from the Latin ‘docere’ meaning ‘to teach’ and has sweet FA to do with medicine. If medical doctors can appropriate this academic title I don’t see any problem with other registered health professions using it as long as they identify they are not PhDs or medical doctors.

    Anyway – aside from that soapbox moment good article, though the “all chiropractors are quacks” could probably be more accurately toned down to “some – or even many – chiropractors are quacks”. I’ve known a few that are okay, as well as a few that think subluxation is the bollocks it is, though I wouldn’t use them as a GP.

  9. Liz45

    @DEREK – It’s people showing their ignorance mate. I sympathise. A friend of mine is working really hard on her PhD at present, and has given me an insight into the work involved.

    As for those labelling all chiropractors as ‘quacks’? How about the doctor jailed recently for mutilating a woman patient and sexually assaulting two other women. He was supposed to be a Ob/Gyn surgeon. He only got 3 years, and the NSW Attorney General is hopefully going to recommend an appeal re leniency. this bastard is not alone, but we don’t label all with the same brush. My chiropractor is great, has integrity and is a good bloke!

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