An unfortunate side effect (if you will) of states licensing of “CAM” practitioners is their ensuing insinuation of themselves into the nooks and crannies of the American health care system. Sometimes this is voluntary, such as their inclusion as providers of health care services in medical practices and other institutional settings in the form of integrative and quackademic medicine. Where voluntary action is not forthcoming, CAM practitioners and integrative medicine proponents are not shy about petitioning the state legislatures and Congress to wave the wand of legislative alchemy. “Poof!” and they appear. One example of this is the legislative mandates that their goods and services be covered by private insurance. Another is including CAM providers in publicly-funded health insurance, such as Medicare. And next year we will see the effects of the non-discrimination provisions of the Affordable Care Act begin to unfold.
Two bills currently before the U.S. Congress invoke the magic of legislative alchemy by expanding the availability of CAM to military veterans and funding CAM research at the expense of legitimate research. One deals with chiropractic, the other with CAM in general. As we saw last week, one of this country’s foremost supporters of integrative medicine, Wayne Jonas, M.D., recently testified before the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in favor of these bills. I think any fair review of his testimony would find it unpersuasive and I hope the Committee will agree.
Chiropractors have already forced their way into the Veterans Administration (VA) medical system. For our readers not familiar with the fragmented American health care system, in addition to having a combination of public and private health insurance, or, in some cases, no health insurance at all, we have an entirely separate system of medical care solely for the military that includes its own hospitals and out-patient clinics. Military veterans have had access for some time to chiropractors at a limited number of these VA hospitals and clinics. According to the American Chiropractic Association (ACA), the “military’s medical bureaucracy continues to try to impose new barriers to chiropractic care.” This meant the ACA had to get its supporters in Congress to pass several bills to speed up implementation of the 1995 law requiring the current limited chiropractic benefit. The subtext I read in all of this is that the Veterans’ Administration, or at least those in charge of medical care, was not particularly thrilled with having chiropractors working in their facilities and has dragged its feet in implementing the law.
Integrative medicine proponents claim superiority over physicians practicing “conventional” medicine. (Which I will refer to as “medicine” so as not to buy into integrative medicine’s implied claim that medicine can be practiced with two separate standards.) While conceding that medicine is good for treating conditions like broken arms and heart attacks, physicians who purport to practice integrative medicine argue it ignores “the whole person, including all aspects of lifestyle.” Their vision of a new, improved practice of medicine “emphasizes the therapeutic relationship between practitioner and patient, is informed by evidence, and makes use of all appropriate therapies.””
But, as we know, the practice of medicine already takes into account “the whole person, including all aspects of lifestyle,” is “informed by evidence” and uses “all appropriate therapies.” This includes recommendations regarding diet, exercise, relaxation and vitamin and dietary supplement use, which are often erroneously labeled “CAM.” Medicine appears to be well aware of problems in the current model of health care delivery and is actively seeking ways to improve it. If integrative medical practitioners and their proponents were simply directing their time, energy and resources toward facilitating a better model for delivering health care I suppose no one would have any problem.
But they aren’t. They are claiming rights to an entirely new specialty in medicine. Proponents do this by advancing two dubious arguments. First, integrative medicine alone can deliver on this “whole person” model of care. Second, inclusion of alternative medicine is essential to good patient care.
From a consumer protection standpoint, I find integrative medicine troubling. Proponents are unfairly misrepresenting medical practice as inferior and offering themselves as the solution when there is no evidence that they can deliver on these claims. Unfortunately, despite this lack of evidence, integrative medicine has seized the imagination of public policy makers and legislative bodies. It is included in the Affordable Care Act and continues to metastasize throughout the military health care system, which together will soon control delivery of the vast majority of health care in this country.
TAM is fast approaching, and I’ve been frantically trying to get my talks together. The theme this year is “Fighting the Fakers,” and one of my talks will be for the Science-Based Medicine Workshop on Thursday, in which I will attempt in a mere 15 minutes to explain what Science-Based Medicine is and how it can be used to combat the infiltration of quackademic medicine into medical academia. Then, the second talk will be a tag-team spectacular with Bob Blaskiewicz about Stanislaw Burzynski as an example of how some cranks skirt the edges of science-based medicine. That doesn’t make them any less dangerous (if anything, it makes them more dangerous), but it does make them not as easy to identify as someone like, say, Hulda Clark.
Unfortunately, between working on these talks, revising some papers, and having an unusually busy weekend on call, I wasn’t sure what I was going to come up with for the edification of you, our readers. Fortunately, right on the 4th of July holiday, there was an article that gave me my idea, particularly given that I had noticed a couple of studies on the very subject of the article in the week leading up to the long holiday in the US (at least for people not on call). As a result, I’m half tempted to refer to this article as a trilogy of acupuncture terror.
Oh, wait. I just did. (more…)
States license “complementary and alternative” (CAM) practitioners (chiropractors, naturopaths, acupuncturists/TCM practitioners and homeopaths) via the magic of “legislative alchemy.” Ironically, licensing statutes are enacted based on the states’ constitutional power to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public. Yet these CAM practice acts actually increase public vulnerability to unsafe and ineffective health care practices. It is, in short, a bad idea. (A point we’ve discussed many times on SBM.) Here are six reasons why. Feel free to add to the list.
1. Practice acts grant CAM practitioners a broad scope of practice, including legalization of scientifically implausible and unproven (or disproven) diagnostic methods, diagnoses and treatments.
Like medical doctors, dentists and nurses, CAM practitioners must practice under licensing legislation, also referred to as a practice act. Otherwise, they risk prosecution for the unlicensed practice of medicine or other licensed profession unless they are exempted by one of the so-called “health freedom” laws, which basically give everyone the right to practice medicine.
Chiropractic practice acts incorporate the absurd notion that patients are suffering from “subluxations” that adversely affect their (or their children’s) health. Acupuncture practice acts are based on the equally absurd notion that the body contains “meridians” which, when blocked, cause ill health, but can be relieved by sticking people with needles. Naturopaths can diagnose and treat conditions they invented out of whole cloth, such as chronic yeast overgrowth, ubiquitous “food sensitivities,” and adrenal fatigue. Homeopaths can treat patients with expensive little bottles of water. (You can find out much more about these CAM practices in the pull-down menu accessed via the “Categories” tab to the right of this post.)
Although there are exceptions, most practice acts grant CAM providers the right to diagnose and treat any patient, no matter what age or physical condition, suffering from any disease or condition, as long as the disease or condition is described in the terms of the practice act and the treatment is within the scope of practice. This is perhaps best illustrated by examples. Suppose a patient sees a chiropractor for vertigo. The chiropractor is legally allowed to diagnose the cause of vertigo as one or more subluxations of the spine and to treat the patient with adjustments. What if the patient sees an acupuncturist? If the acupuncturist diagnoses blockage of “qi” as the cause of vertigo and performs acupuncture to unblock the “qi,” the acupuncturist has done nothing outside his scope of practice. And if the patient sees a naturopath? The naturopath is free to diagnose, for example, “toxins” as the cause of the vertigo and proceed to treat these toxins with colonic irrigation. How about a homeopath? Same result: the patient is treated with what is essentially water. None of this will address the patient’s vertigo but it is all perfectly legal. (more…)
About a year ago the editors of Anesthesia & Analgesia solicited a written debate on whether or not acupuncture is effective or simply an elaborate placebo. Four experienced acupuncture researchers agreed to write the pro-acupuncture article, Wang, Harris, Lin and Gan. They asked David Colquhoun to write the con position, and David asked me to write it with him (which, of course, I enthusiastically agreed to do).
The article is fortunately published in open access, and so I can reprint it here (full article is below). What I think David and I convincingly demonstrated is that, according to the usual standards of medicine, acupuncture does not work.
Let me explain what I mean by that. Clinical research can never prove that an intervention has an effect size of zero. Rather, clinical research assumes the null hypothesis, that the treatment does not work, and the burden of proof lies with demonstrating adequate evidence to reject the null hypothesis. So, when being technical, researchers will conclude that a negative study “fails to reject the null hypothesis.”
Osteoarthritis is the “wear and tear” kind of arthritis that many of us develop as we get older. Cartilage becomes less resilient with age, collagen can degenerate, and inflammation and new bone outgrowths (osteophytes) can occur. This leads to pain, crepitus (Rice Krispie type crackling noises with movement), swelling and fluid accumulation in the joints (effusion), and can severely limit activity for some patients. Patellofemoral pain is one of the most common of the repetitive strain injuries and is like an early onset of arthritis.
Since knee osteoarthritis is such a ubiquitous annoyance, home remedies and CAM offerings abound. Previously we have covered a number of CAM options on this blog, including glucosamine, acupuncture, and several others. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) has just issued a 1200 page report evaluating the evidence for various treatments for knee osteoarthritis short of total knee replacement surgery. A 13 page summary is available online. They have done the heavy lifting for us, reviewing all the available scientific studies for evidence of effectiveness. Here’s what the science says: (I’ve highlighted the ones where the evidence is strong.) (more…)
Note: Lest you think that SBM is becoming “turtles all the way down,” let me apologize for the duplication and explain that I had already written this right before I read Mark Crislip’s Turtle Agony article on Friday. My focus is different, and turtles were only a small part of my article, so I decided to leave the turtles in. If you prefer to avoid a turtle overdose, you can just skip the Turtlepuncture section and go on to the Motion Style Acupuncture section. They are clearly labeled for your convenience.
The “science” of acupuncture trudges ever onward without really getting anywhere. New developments include a report of turtlepuncture and a study about treating low back pain with a new kind of “motion style” acupuncture using passive or active movement while the needles are in place. I found the first amusing and the second unconvincing.
A group of Ridley sea turtles were rescued after being stranded during a cold spell that left them hypothermic and unable to function. In addition to the usual rescue and rehabilitation efforts, two of the turtles, Dexter and Fletcher Moon, were treated with acupuncture. It was intended to “decrease inflammation and swelling on their front flippers, restore a full range of motion on those limbs and help the animals regain their appetites.” It allegedly worked: their appetite and the use of their limbs improved. But without any controlled observations, this is only an anecdotal report and means very little. They might have recovered just as well without the treatment, for all we know.
Lest anyone think I am a heartless bastard, I would like it to be known that I do not like to see any creature suffer or die. I am the kind of person who, when finding a spider in the house, is likely to catch it and toss it outside. I always think, “I can’t squish the end result of 6 billion years of evolution”. Except mosquitoes. Those I squish with glee. Infection vectors can die die die die.
I like animals and hate to see them suffer unnecessarily. Like sticking them with needles. Frontal lobes are nice to have. They can let you know that pain is coming and provide preparation and compensation. Once I had a steel bar smack me on the head, opening up a six-inch cut to the bone. No, my brain was not affected, thank you very much. Everything predates the head trauma. When the ER doc numbed the scalp for sutures, he missed the last half-inch and I felt the needle. Knowing what was going on I steeled myself and let him do the last two sutures with no lidocaine, since the needle hurt only a little worse than the lidocaine injection. I have had many other unpleasant medical procedures in my 56 years but knowing what was coming and understanding why makes it easier to tolerate a needle popping into the knee joint or an abdominal drain being pulled.
Animals, and young humans, lack the ability to comprehend the what and why of pain inflicted as part of medicine. Adults can make a conscious decision to be endure pain and fool themselves into thinking it is of benefit. No pain, no gain. Animals can make no such choice.
For example consider sea turtles, who, apparently, are subjected to all sorts of nonsense at the New England Aquarium including acupuncture and laser therapy. As is obvious, I am no veterinarian, the only animal of which I have any understanding of anatomy and physiology is a human, but even with that background it is remarkable what is reported from New England. I used to say the ‘B’ students went into journalism; given the credulous reporting perhaps the standards have been lowered. They certainly have for marine biologists and veterinarians, who are evidently shortchanged in their education. (more…)
If the “Health Freedom” movement has its way, everyone in the United States will be able to practice medicine. It may be quack medicine but that doesn’t seem to bother them. Short of that, chiropractors, naturopaths and acupuncturists are aiming to reinvent themselves primary care providers and even physicians. As David Gorski pointed out, this will reduce medical doctors to just another iteration of physician, the “allopathic” type, equal in stature to the chiropractic, naturopathic and acupuncture types. These “physicians” already call themselves “doctor” (e.g., “Doctor of Oriental Medicine”) and claim to graduate from four-year “doctoral” programs. This despite the fact that their schools operate outside the mainstream American university system and avoid some of the basics of typical graduate programs, such as entrance exams, as well as the extensive clinical training required for medical doctors.
Consumers are confused by all of this, and who wouldn’t be? In 2008 and 2010, surveys done for the American Medical Association by outside firms revealed that many patients did not know the qualifications of their healthcare provider. The comparisons were between allied health professions (e.g., audiologists and nurse practitioners) and medical doctors, but chiropractors were included. In 2008, 38 per cent of those surveyed (n=850) thought chiropractors were medical doctors, although that dropped to 31 per cent in 2010. Still, we are talking about roughly one-third of the survey participants.
The surveys also asked about the use of the term “physician” and confusion in advertising materials.
Every so often, our “friends” on the other side of the science aisle (i.e., the supporters of “complementary and alternative medicine”—otherwise known as CAM or “integrative medicine”) give me a present when I’m looking for a topic for my weekly bit of brain droppings about medicine, science, and/or why CAM is neither. It’s also been a while since I’ve written about this particular subject; so it’s a win-win for all sides! I get a topic. A certain CAM journal gets extra traffic. And you get the benefit of my usually brilliant deconstruction of dubious science. What could go wrong? I mean, I might not be Mark Crislip, but I do enjoy a good dive into a pile of pseudoscience every now and then. It’s just a weird trait of mine.
In any case, there is a journal called Medical Acupuncture. Sadly, it’s published by a real scientific publisher, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., a publisher that has a stable of decent, if not top tier, journals. Unfortunately, it also has a stable of CAM journals, including, of course, the aforementioned journal Medical Acupuncture. Because I happen to be on the mailing list for Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., I recently got an e-mail with an announcement:
How Does Acupuncture Work? The Science behind the Therapy Is Explored in a Special Issue of Medical Acupuncture
New Rochelle, NY, April 16, 2013—Even as medical acupuncture is increasingly being validated as an effective treatment for a broad range of medical conditions, what has been missing is an understanding of the basic science and mechanisms of action of this age-old method of healing. A special issue of Medical Acupuncture, a peer-reviewed journal published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers presents a series of articles by authors from around the world who provide diverse and insightful perspectives on the science and physiologic responses underlying medical acupuncture. The issue is available free on the Medical Acupuncture website.
“Understanding acupuncture in the same manner that we understand the mechanism of action and pharmacokinetics of a particular drug will, similarly, enable us to match treatments better with conditions,” states Guest Editor Richard F. Hobbs, III, MD. “The net effect will be improved outcomes,” he writes in his editorial “Basic Science Matters.”