Confessions of a Quackbuster

This blog deals with healthcare consumer protection, and is therefore about quackery, healthfraud, chiropractic, and other forms of so-Called "Alternative" Medicine (sCAM).

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Dr. Terry Polevoy - Medical Post article

The Medical Post

November 02, 2004 Volume 40 Issue 41

DOCTOR IN PROFILE

Challenging quacks and frauds

Dr. Terry Polevoy is a self-appointed health watchdog. He investigates and challenges products, services and theories that are marketed with claims he believes to be false, unsubstantiated or even illegal

By Barbara Kermode-Scott

Doctors across Canada and around the world become angry when they hear of dishonest people or businesses that prey on the sick.

Unfortunately there are those out there who will unscrupulously raise the hopes and ruthlessly take the money of patients who cannot find a cure from conventional medicine.

Ontario physician Dr. Terry Polevoy is certainly angered when he comes across evidence of fraudulent claims, con tricks or other health scams. Unlike most of us, Dr. Polevoy taps into that anger and takes action to protect consumers against health quackery.

Although Dr. Polevoy runs an acne clinic in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont., and practises part-time at a walk-in clinic in London, Ont., he still devotes many hours each week to his role as a health watchdog. He investigates and challenges products, services and theories that are marketed with claims that he believes to be false, unsubstantiated or even illegal.

"I think that medicine—generic medicine—any kind of medicine—healing arts medicine—has a responsibility to be honest, to publish and to study things that work and disprove them if they don't work," Dr. Polevoy said in an interview. The industries that really need to be watched are those industries where there are no written laws to protect the public, he added. "Whether it's a method that people are using as doctors, chiropractors or naturopaths or whether it's a mom-and-pop down the street selling a product that allegedly cures all sorts of ills, consumer help is lacking in Canada," he suggested.

"There are very few enforcement officers around to look at drugs or devices. We need a separate agency, like they have in England and Australia, to look at false claims and advertising. . . . Until we get that in Canada . . . literally nothing will be done to control the quackery, the bad pills, the herbals and all the other kinds of other stuff, despite the tens of millions of dollars being spent on these."

Needless to say Dr. Polevoy's war on health quackery tends not to win him popularity awards or medals. He and his colleagues have incurred the wrath of individuals, corporations and others.

He says he has been threatened with lawsuits and even sued by a company Polevoy claims provides shady weight-loss producers with rented mail drops. Further, Dr. Polevoy is frequently attacked on the Internet and other places by those whose medical treatments he has savaged.

But he gives as good as he gets, often using words such as quackery and fraud to attack those he believes are scamming the public. He is presently involved in a California libel suit against a group of people he believes posted defamatory remarks about him on the Internet.

He has often endured personal attacks that question his professionalism, family life and sexual conduct.

"Sometimes it's the chiropractors who don't like me. . . . Sometimes it's people in naturopathy. Sometimes it's a weirdo. . . . Right now we're a target for hate by the chiropractic fundamentalists."

Born and raised in the United States, Dr. Polevoy undertook his medical degree at the Wayne State University school of medicine in Detroit. While a medical student he became interested in social activism and was involved in protests against the Vietnam War. Afterward he moved to Canada and did a pediatric residency at the University of Western Ontario and at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

From 1977 to 1990 he practised in the United States, in Florida, in the U.S. Navy and in Ohio.

In 1990, he moved back to Canada to work in walk-in clinics in Ontario. In 1992, Dr. Polevoy opened an acne care clinic in Kitchener. Although he had a keen interest in holistic and alternative medicine early on in his practice in both the U.S. and in Canada, Dr. Polevoy later on became very disillusioned with the growth of "blatant quackery" in medicine, and the acceptance of "bogus practices" by mainstream medical organizations and government-funded institutions.

His skepticism grew following the death of his second wife from skin cancer. She had received both alternative and conventional therapies for a malignant melanoma.

In 1997, Dr. Polevoy started his first Web site about "alternative" medicine, www.healthwatcher.net. He now spends several hours daily online investigating quackery and monitoring media reports on alternative medicine. He then posts information about incidents of health fraud, diet fraud and alternative medicine on www.healthwatcher.net and his various other web sites (www.DietFraud.com, www.HerbalWatch.com, www.ChiroWatch.com).

"What I do is, I monitor the quack industry and I file complaints with the colleges . . . because people are being hoodwinked. . . . What bothers me most is the gullibility of the media to swallow stories that have no basis in fact," he said.

Dr. Polevoy has campaigned against consumer health fraud, cancer quackery, diet scams, herbal product dangers, chiropractic problems, alternative medicine and assorted fraudulent practices. To honor his second wife, he also tries to educate the public and politicians about the dangers of using sun beds, particularly for children and young adults.

He worries as well about holistic health clinics doing chelation and intravenous procedures. "No one stops them. I don't know why no one stops them. Isn't it an assault on a patient to inject them with an intravenous that's not approved for use? No one cares. Until someone drops dead in a naturopath's office in Alberta or British Columbia or Ontario from doing a quack chelation therapy nobody's going to hear about it.

"The other thing that annoys me is the people that are doing chelation therapy and using 'vega' testing machines. Vega testing machines are total quackery. . . . People who use fake PhDs really piss me off. There are people who buy their diplomas off-shore in Sri Lanka or India—they claim to have a PhD and use vega testing machines."

In April 2003, Dr. Polevoy co-authored an E-book called Pig Pills, Inc. with medical reporter Marvin Ross, and former Health Canada inspector and private detective Ron Reinhold. The book was the result of a two-and-a-half year investigation of Empowerplus, a nutraceutical sold to customers with serious mental health and other disorders. Following the book's publication, Health Canada issued a health advisory on the potential risks of Empowerplus and raided the offices of Truehope Nutritional Support Limited/Synergy, the company marketing Empowerplus in Canada. In July 2004, Truehope was charged on six counts under the Food and Drugs Act for allegedly importing and selling its product without government approval.

Dr. Polevoy will continue his war against companies like Truehope, as well as against any individuals, organizations and corporations he believes are hoodwinking consumers and patients. Sometimes, as with Truehope, he will be able to see the results of his efforts, other times not, but he'll carry on fighting for the underdog.

Barbara Kermode-Scott is a writer in Calgary.



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