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).

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Beware of Health fraud

Beware of Health fraud

Dr KK Aggarwal

April 12, 2005

The word ‘quackery’ comes from the word ‘quacksliver’ (someone who goes about his salves). The literal dictionary meaning of quacks is “pretender to medical skill, a charlatan” and “one who talks pretentiously without sound knowledge of the subject discussed”. US FDA defines health fraud as “the promotion, for providing a medical remedy, known to be false or unproven”. Quackery, therefore, has to be differentiated from the word ‘fraud’. Quackery's paramount characteristic is promotion rather than fraud, greed, or misinformation.

In simpler and broader terms, quackery can be defined as “anything involving for over promotion in the field of health”. This definition includes questionable ideas as well as questionable products and service regardless of the sincerity of their promoters. The word fraud should be reserved only for situations in which deliberate deception is involved.

Unproven methods are not necessarily quackery. Many of them may be consistent with established scientific concepts and should be labelled experimental. Legitimate researchers would convert them into properly designed studies. In the Indian context, as far as government is concerned, quack is defined as a person who is practicing a particular system of medicine without a recognised medical degree or registration.

Quackery is rampant in Indian society. For every one qualified doctor there are two practicing quacks. One of the reasons is inhuman behaviour of the qualified medical doctors. A classical example of a quack is in the movie “Munnabhai MBBS” where a healer wins the game over the qualified medical allopathic practitioners. A quack pays more attention to the person than to the ailment. Quackery basically is a triad of creating fear, utilizing tenderness and building patient's confidence. Most quacks have superb bedside manners. They cannot provide cure of major diseases present in a person, but they can make promises, give sympathy, show consideration, show concern and give repeated re-assurances to the patient and the family.

Most patients will respond to such attention. Unless the medical doctors adopt this type of healing in their conventional healing quackery can never be eradicated.

All doctors should improve their communication skills. Most qualified physicians help their patients if they can, but at most occasions they also confess when they can’t. Quacks do not make such confessions. A quack can promise anything starting from a cure to a miracle. Quacks utilize prevalent myths in the society and use them to their advantage. They have a fair knowledge of tantras and totkas.

You are what your deep-rooted desires are. In a state of silence whatever is your intent, the body produces the same through a chemical. If you have a positive desire the body produces a placebo and if you have negative desires, the body produces a nacebo. Most diseases are self-limiting. By a positive frame of mind and positive thinking even cancers have been known to regress. Most quacks utilize the same in their practice. A quack, therefore, is an intelligent person who is playing with the weaknesses of the human mind. They will continue to flourish unless a medical doctor apart from being a physical healer also becomes a mental and a spiritual healer.

A quack can be dangerous for our life. When we approach a doctor we must make sure that he or she is registered with the state medical council. Just the word doctor would not suffice. Most quacks write the word RMP or “registered medical practitioner”. We must see to it that the doctor has the medical registration number on the letterhead, which is a statutory legal requirement.

Even a delayed diagnosis can be dangerous. Most quacks give a cocktail therapy, which only suppresses the symptoms. The same will come back after a few days, but by that time it may be too late.

(The writer is a senior Physician, Head Department of Cardiology and Deputy Dean Board of Medical Education-Moolchand Hospital, President-Heart Care Foundation of India, President Elect-Delhi Medical Association and Member-Delhi Medical Council.)