Following a lengthy investigation of chiropractors’ websites and the claims made on them, and a subsequent series of complaints to authorities, Dr Ken Harvey and Vic Skeptic Mal Vickers have suggested that “the Chiropractic Board of Australia’s handling of complaints by educative measures alone is ineffective”.
In an article in the Medical Journal of Australia, Harvey, Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine at Monash University and a long time campaigner against shonky medical products, and Vickers, who is a research associate of Dr Harvey as well as a member of the committee of Victorian Skeptics, said that the Board “has largely failed to correct the websites which we have complained about”.
“It has failed to deter other practitioners from continuing to make claims that have been the subject of numerous complaints. It has made submitting complaints a totally unrewarding procedure. While a complainant is usually notified that their complaint has been received, subsequently they usually hear no more.
“In short, despite hundreds of complaints about unethical advertising over many years and calls to act on practitioners who promote anti-vaccination beliefs, the Chiropractic Board has consistently failed to protect the public from misleading and deceptive conduct by practitioners. It has also failed to implement the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s 2009 Better Practice Guide to Complaint Handling.
“Given that track record, it’s not surprising that there are now calls for the Chiropractic Board of Australia to be sacked.”
In 2013, the Chiropractic Board and the Chiropractors’ Association of Australia were joint winners of the 2013 Australian Skeptics’ Bent Spoon award for their ineffectiveness in dealing with unacceptable conduct by some of its members … even members who were on the Board of the CAA itself!
Harvey and Vickers also took aim at the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, which is responsible for the implementation of the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme across Australia.
“AHPRA notified us that [our] complaints had been received, but subsequently we heard no more.”
The complaints involved 38 chiropractors and 69 advertising claims that were selected from more than 200 chiropractic websites that appeared to be in breach of s. 133 of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law Act 2009 and also the Chiropractic Board of Australia’s Guidelines for advertising regulated health services. These provisions prohibit advertising that is false, misleading or deceptive, creates an unreasonable expectation of beneficial treatment, or can encourage the indiscriminate or unnecessary use of health services.
“Our covering letter argued that the time for ‘education’ had passed and chiropractors must now be held to account for breaches of the National Law.
“Five years have passed since the Chiropractic Board of Australia first asked practitioners to ensure that their websites met legal advertising requirements. Over this time, the Board’s sole approach to this problem has been educative. They have published communiques and newsletters, conducted seminars, written letters to practitioners subject to complaint, and produced a fact sheet on evidence-based practice and a non-specific position statement on paediatric care. They have also noted that the use of certain words in advertising, such as ‘cure’, ‘safe’ and ‘effective’, can increase the risk of misleading or deceiving the public.
“However, the Board has never published any determinations about the hundreds of complaints received. This failure to provide specific information about which claims have breached the National Law has clearly contributed to the ongoing problem. Furthermore, unlike similar bodies, the Board has never named offenders and has never required the correction of serious misleading information by ordering a retraction.
“Despite chiropractors consistently having the highest rate of advertising complaints of all practitioners (38 per 1000 chiropractors in 2013–14), no penalties or disciplinary action appear to have been applied for advertising offences.”
While AHPRA has oversight of the Chiropractic Board, the COAG Health Council has the sole responsibility of sacking a National Health Practitioner Board.