Medical Fraud: Investigation finds chiropractor claims are grossly misleading


Claims by a chiropractor that he or she can treat disorders such as autism, Alzheimer’s and Asperger’s syndrome is not supported by evidence

You might perhaps consider a chiropractor to be a wholly qualified medical doctor who will address specific issues such as back pain, but that is not the case.

A new investigation from Canada once again throws a light upon all this. CBC conduced a review of the various claims being promoted by chiropractors via their advertising, and what it reveals is perhaps something that many within the skeptical community are already aware of – it is mostly crackpottery and pseudoscientific nonsense that has no evidence to back it up.

The CBC article that describes it all is here  …

Advertising by some Manitoba chiropractors undermines public health, expert says

But this is just spinal manipulation to address back pain … right?

Er … no …

Statements circulated by dozens of Manitoba chiropractors are misleading and potentially harmful, says a public health expert.

There is no evidence that chiropractic is effective in treating cancer and autism and any of those things that they are apparently claiming that they can treat,” said Dr. Alan Katz, director of the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy.

A CBC News analysis of company websites and Facebook pages of every registered chiropractor in Manitoba found several dozen examples of statements, claims and social media content at odds with many public health policies or medical research.

Examples include:

  • Offers of treatments for autism, Tourette’s syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease, colic, infections and cancer.
  • Anti-vaccination literature and recently published letters to the editor from chiropractors that discourage vaccination.
  • An article claiming vaccines have caused a 200 to 600 per cent increase in autism rates.
  • A statement that claims the education and training of a chiropractor is “virtually identical” to that of a medical doctor.
  • Discouraging people from getting diagnostic tests such as CT scans, colonoscopies and mammograms.
  • An informational video discouraging the use of sunscreen.

Anti-Vaccine Crackpottery

That second bullet item above is what triggered the CBC investigation. It consisted of a letter-to-the-editor in which one specific chiropractor wrote in making some utterly absurd claims  …

Anti-vax letters to the editor prompted CBC investigation

A letter by Winnipeg chiropractor Henri Marcoux was published last February in Manitoba’s francophone weekly newspaper La Liberté, in response to an article in which a regional health authority expert was interviewed about influenza immunizations.

Marcoux wrote that he does not recommend flu vaccines, calling them “toxic.” He further stated that the flu virus actually “purifies our systems” and said that he believes flu vaccines are “driven by a vast operation orchestrated by pharmaceutical companies.”

People should instead focus on general wellness — which includes chiropractic treatment — to stave off the flu, he wrote.

Er no … flu does not “purify our systems”, and flu vaccines are not a grand pharmaceutical hoax, they actually do work. As a rather stark contrast, the evidence that spinal manipulation by a chiropractor will help prevent flu is exactly zero.

As you might quite rightly expect and also anticipate, that letter provoked a reaction. Letters poured in from members of the community, including a resident and two physicians who vigorously objected to this nonsense.

Mr Marcoux was asked for some feedback, and inevitably he stuck to his initial stance.

So CBC launched an investigation.

Misinformation

Having gathered up samples of the claims being promoted by all of the Manitoba based chiropractors, the CBC investigators turned to Dr. Alan Katz, the director of the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy, for some guidance.

He was truly horrified by it all …

“It misleads the public in two areas. Firstly, those who choose to go for chiropractic care, particularly for things like infection and autism and things that we know they’re not going to be beneficial for, it misleads those individuals and gives them false hope for treatment that will not be effective,”

“Putting these things up on their website also puts the doubt in the minds of others about what we do know works, and as a result those people may not seek the right type of care for conditions that could deteriorate if they don’t seek that care.”

Other feedback

Being good investigators, they also reached out to the Manitoba Chiropractors Association. The response … well none really, they rejected the request for an interview and issued a rather bland statement that says nothing …

we will review the material you have shared with us in a thorough manner as provided for by our internal processes

In other words, they are hunkering down and doing nothing except to wait for the media storm to blow over. Once the spotlight is off, it will be back to the normal pseudoscientific crackpottery.

What about talking to the chiropractors themselves?

The CBC investigators also tried that and got the same reaction …

CBC News reached out to several chiropractors for comment about their online content. Calls and emails were either not returned, or interview requests were declined.

This overall reaction sends a clear message.

If any normal medical practitioner was challenged about specific practises, then they will happily defend it. They will step up and explain what is being done, why it is being done, and also what evidence supports a specific practise. In this case that is not what happened, there is an outright refusal to defend what they are claiming.

Why would they behave like this?

Basically because what they are claiming can’t be defended with evidence.

Be Aware: chiropractic practise is not medicine

Most within the skeptical community are aware that chiropractic practise is primarily pseudoscientific nonsense that has no evidence to backup many of the utterly absurd claims that are often promoted. This however is something that has not penetrated general public awareness.

For completeness …

Multiple systematic reviews have found no evidence that chiropractic manipulation is effective, with the possible exception of treatment for lower back pain.[4] A critical evaluation found that collectively, spinal manipulation was ineffective at treating any condition.[9] There is not sufficient data to establish the safety of chiropractic manipulations.[10][11][12][13] The rate of adverse events is unknown[11] as they are under–reported.[12][13]Chiropractic is frequently associated with mild to moderate adverse effects.[11][14] The incidence of serious complications which can lead to permanent disability or death is probably rare.[10][11][14] There is controversy regarding the degree of risk of stroke and death from cervical manipulation.[15] Several deaths have been associated with this technique[11] and it is suggested that the relationship is causative,[16][17] a claim which is disputed by many chiropractors.[17]

The philosophy behind it all consists of some rather bizarre beliefs. You can read more about it here, so be aware, it is not standard medical practise, but instead embraces rather a lot of weird thinking that often includes a rejection of evidence-based medicine.

Interestingly enough, I checked out a few websites of UK based chiropractors. It was very specific to just back-pain and no mention was made of any of the stuff being promoted by the Canadian chiropractors. The skeptic community here has a history of challenging such claims, hence they have cleaned up their act. In fact the history of it all led to a complete reform of the libel laws in the UK.

What Now?

There is a split on how to best address such concerns. This is highlighted by Dr Steven Novella, an academic clinical neurologist at the Yale University School of Medicine. He not only happily criticises such fringe crackpottery on the Science-Based medicine platform, but he also lays out the issue  …

There are two schools of thought within the science-based medicine community, and it is an interesting dilemma. There are those who think that the chiropractic profession needs to be brought within the sphere of science and evidence. They should purge themselves of pseudoscience, limit their practice to evidence-based interventions, and meaningful engage in research and with mainstream medical practice. If they did there is a role for them as health professionals with expertise in certain musculoskeletal conditions.

The other school of thought is that the chiropractic profession is hopelessly and inherently pseudoscientific. It cannot be reformed, and should only be opposed. It is fundamentally based on philosophy, rather than science, and culturally is anti-science and anti-mainstream medicine. The few exceptions are a tiny minority with no political power within the profession.

I could go either way in this debate, as both sides have legitimate points. What is clear is that currently we are stuck in the middle, with a chiropractic profession that has legal and cultural legitimacy it has not earned and does not deserve.

One last thought

If indeed you do have an issue that results in somebody suggesting you should visit a chiropractor, then I’d recommend you seriously consider seeing a physical therapist instead. You will be far better off and will also avoid the potential exposure to a lot of nonsense.

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