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).

Monday, September 26, 2005

Speakout: State ignores naturopaths' 'quackery'

Speakout: State ignores naturopaths' 'quackery'
By Drs. Kimball C. Attwood and Carl Bartecchi, Special to the News
September 19, 2005

In Colorado today at least 49 persons pretend to be physicians. They are neither licensed nor trained to practice medicine, but they claim to do exactly that. Most advertise that they are "physicians," a protected title in Colorado, and many define themselves as primary-care physicians, trained to diagnose and treat illnesses. Such language is a violation of Colorado's Medical Practice Act. Colorado regulators are aware of these facts but have refused to act.

The physician impersonators call themselves "naturopathic physicians." They have received the "ND" degree from one of five four-year schools in North America. The schools purport to teach a blend of "conventional" medicine and "gentle, natural, holistic medicine." They claim to prepare students to act as primary-care providers immediately upon graduation, unlike medical doctors who must first undergo several more years of rigorous, hospital-based residency training.

Naturopathic schools, moreover, don't teach a recognizable form of medicine. NDs claim that diseases are caused by toxins, allergies, systemic yeast infections, "energy imbalances," dietary sugar, fat, and gluten, spinal misalignments, "craniosacral rhythm" disturbances, and a few other fanciful notions. To diagnose these, they use "applied kinesiology," "iridology," "hair analysis," "electrodermal skin testing," "pulse and tongue diagnosis," and other methods that lack any basis in science or medicine. Treatments include "detoxification" by enemas, fasting, vitamin injections, homeopathy, "craniosacral therapy," inflating balloons in the nostrils to "release tensions stored in the connective tissue and return the body to its original design," arduous dietary regimens, "natural remedies" sold by the ND for a profit, and more.

There is a time-honored term for such practices: quackery.

The Colorado Medical Practice Act defines the practice of medicine, in part, as follows:

(a) Holding out oneself to the public within this state as being able to diagnose, treat, prescribe for, palliate, or prevent any human disease . . .

(b) Suggesting, recommending, prescribing, or administering any form of treatment, operation, or healing for the intended palliation, relief, or cure of any physical or mental disease . . .

(c) The maintenance of an office . . . for the purpose of examining or treating persons afflicted with disease . . .

A person who does any of the above without a license to practice medicine is in violation of the act. The act assigns the state Board of Medical Examiners the "powers and duties" to enforce its provisions.

The Web site of one Colorado ND states:

"I consult with, exam, diagnose and treat folks for everything you can think of, from newborns to folks dying of cancer. I use diet, exercise, herbs, nutrients, hormones, acupuncture, counseling, drugs, intravenous therapy and detoxification."

On June 24 Linda Rosa, a nurse in Loveland and a member of the National Council Against Health Fraud, presented this and similar information regarding 49 NDs with offices in Colorado to the Board of Medical Examiners. She received this reply from Rosemary McCool, the director of the Division of Registrations: "we are not in a position to accept and process your complaints." Her reasons:

". . . you have not included specific patient-care allegations regarding these individuals. In fact, it does not appear that you have personally interacted with these naturopaths and have no direct knowledge of the services that they provide. . . . it appears that your primary objection is to the fact that these individuals provide some type of health-care service."

McCool also suggested that the Board "prioritize" its "resources towards complaints from consumers who are the recipient of the licensee's service and who believe that those services were substandard in some respect." Apparently the board confines its investigations to licensed physicians but ignores unlicensed physician impersonators. This is like arresting reckless drivers only if they are licensed.

There is nothing in the Medical Practice Act that requires a complainant to be a patient or to interact with physician impersonators. When the evidence has been gathered, as was done in this case by Rosa, the act directs the board to "aid the several district attorneys of this state in the enforcement of this article and in the prosecution of all persons, firms, associations, or corporations charged with the violation of any of its provisions."

McCool and the board have been inventing new law in their erroneous interpretation of the Medical Practice Act. In so doing, they have chosen to wait until someone is injured by a quack before they enforce the very laws that are intended to prevent such injury.

Dr. Kimball C. Atwood is associate editor of the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine. Dr. Carl Bartecchi is distinguished clinical professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

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