I read with astonishment today that a group of prominent doctors, medical researchers and scientists in Australia have written a letter to the Central Queensland University to oppose a new chiropractic course. Apparently their reasoning is that this course and other complementary therapies are potentially harmful to the public and based on pseudo-science. In my experience, the same could be argued about the practice of many medical professionals.
Some of the comments from this group include:
Prof Morrison (a science writer and broadcaster) commented that, “Alternative therapies may have a placebo effect, but wrapping them up as science and discussing them in the same way as treatments that pass rigorous efficacy and safety tests is harmful for everyone”.
Prof Alastair MacLennan from the University of Adelaide said that “the issue is much bigger than CQU’s chiropractic course and we condemn the “teaching” of unproven beliefs such as homeopathy, naturopathy and iridology in public institutions”. He described these practices as “shonky”.
Complementary therapies are here to stay whether the medical profession like it or not. Wouldn’t it be more sensible to encourage complementary health practitioners to go to university to learn about scientific methods, rather than complain about universities supporting these therapies?
One reason why people are seeking out complementary therapies is because they are not getting answers from doctors. In particular, when it comes to symptoms like chronic fatigue, the type of service and standard of care that I have received by medical professionals could not be described as scientific and could certainly be described as harmful. These are some experiences I have had when visiting doctors over the past decade:
I visited one doctor due to debilitating fatigue. On my second visit I was told by the doctor that blood test results were normal. He then said, “There’s nothing wrong with you physically, so it must be psychological”. No referrals or follow-up appointments were suggested. Six months later after continuing to be fatigued, I saw another doctor who diagnosed glandular fever. In all my years training as a psychologist, I have never been taught that glandular fever was a psychological disorder.
As the fatigue did not significantly improve (no treatment strategies were suggested after diagnosis), I started seeing doctors again to try and find ways to improve my health. I was told a number of times that the only problem was ‘stress.’ I am now convinced that the term ‘stress’ is conveniently used by doctors when they cannot find a cause for symptoms. After becoming frustrated, I went to another doctor who ordered thorough blood tests. I had a follow-up appointment which lasted about two minutes. I was informed I had rheumatoid arthritis and was given a script for medication. This was despite the fact that I had no obvious symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. The doctor was obviously busy and advised me to make another appointment if I had any questions. After taking these pills for two months, I enquired from another GP what would happen if I abruptly stopped the medication. He said “the pain will come back”. Pain was not one of my initial symptoms, so I stopped taking the medication.
After being disillusioned with the medical profession, I turned to alternative therapists. Complementary health practitioners have never told me that the problem was all in my head. They have taken time to comprehensively assess the problems experienced and have made sensible recommendations other than taking medication for symptoms or diagnosing me with conditions I don’t have.
I decided again to see a GP as my fatigue had only slightly improved. I told the doctor that I had seen a naturopath who suggested I ask about getting a full blood test. His comment was “if the naturopath wants a blood test, he should order it himself”. The doctor then told me to leave his office. He didn’t even ask me why I was there. This experience just reinforced my disillusionment with the medical profession. The reason I went to the naturopath was because I wasn’t getting any help from doctors.
I finally found the main reason why I was fatigued. It was due to food allergies. I had asked GPs a number of times if I could be tested for allergies. I was told that “it’s too expensive” and “too complicated” to assess for allergies. Fortunately, I found a doctor who specialised in nutritional and environmental medicine, who assessed and diagnosed me with food allergies.
In the past six months, I have had four appointments with GPs (none of which I’d been to before). The average appointment time was about four minutes. How can one effectively assess, diagnose and provide treatment recommendations in four minutes? Needless to say, I wasn’t impressed and it has made me wonder whether some doctors will start to offer drive-through medical care, where a doctor asks in a disinterested voice “What’s your symptoms?” and tells you to drive to the next window to pick up your script. I was actually told by one of these doctors “I don’t know what’s wrong with you” (which is an improvement from “you’re stressed”) but was then given a script for antibiotics to treat some unknown condition.
Attacking the practice of complementary health is not only disrespectful to a person’s right to decide what treatment they want to have. It is also disrespectful to those in the medical profession who practice complementary health. There are many doctors who practice complementary health care such as acupuncture and nutritional medicine. Given the increase in people turning to alternatives in health care, I’d have to say I’m rather sceptical about this group’s reasoning that it will protect the community from harm. It would be wiser to look within their own profession to improve practices and prevent harm to the community, before attacking other health professions.
Read more about the doctors attack on complementary medicine here:
The one doctor who did help me, Dr Greg Emerson, has a great web page that can be found here: