CHOICE joins calls for action on dodgy chiro claims

25 February 2016 | Chiropractors Board of Australia fails to crack down on misleading claims putting patients at risk.

Self-regulation isn't working

CHOICE is among several parties, including prominent health professionals, academics, public health advocates and consumer groups, raising serious concerns about the Chiropractors Board of Australia (CBA) because of its failure to transparently deal with complaints and enforce advertising laws.

South Australian health minister Jack Snelling, who is also the chair of the Council of Australian Governments Health Council, has joined the fray. He's demanding answers from health professionals watchdog the Australian Health Professionals Regulatory Authority (AHPRA), and from the CBA on how they're planning to deal with chiropractors making false or misleading claims in advertising.

The concerns have arisen from a frustration with the CBA's inaction over some dodgy claims that were subject to complaints by public health advocate Dr Ken Harvey.

False advertising

Like all health professionals, chiropractors are required to meet certain standards when advertising services to the public. Among the requirements are provisions that prohibit advertising that is false, misleading or deceptive, or that creates an unreasonable expectation of beneficial treatment and encourages the indiscriminate or unnecessary use of health services.

Dr Harvey included complaints about claims that adjustments could help people fight off winter colds and flu, or treat non-musculoskeletal disease such as asthma, otitis media and pneumonia, and the use of non-evidence-based modalities such as hair tissue mineral analysis and homeopathy.

Babies and children

Of particular concern are claims relating to babies and children. Some controversial claims include:

  • "Our chiropractors recommend that babies should be checked and adjusted as soon as possible after birth to help alleviate spinal problems and nerve distress arising from constraint or abnormal positioning in the uterus, from the journey through the birth canal, or during the delivery process itself."
  • "Signs of spinal distress in babies can include, but not be limited to, colic, unusual crying, poor appetite or erratic sleeping habits."
  • "Chiropractic care can resolve breech babies, reducing the need for a caesarean birth."

No action

Complaints about these ads and similar have fallen on deaf ears. Despite dozens of such complaints, there appears to have been little action on the part of AHPRA or the CBA, other than acknowledging a complaint was received. In many cases the claims remain unchanged. By way of comparison, complaints to Medicines Australia or the Therapeutic Goods Administration are publicly available, along with the determinations of each case.

AHPRA has indicated that it is working closely with CBA on managing complaints, and will continue to work with other health regulators and the CBA on matters relating to advertising.

Consumers who have come across false or misleading claims relating to chiropractic – or any field of healthcare – are encouraged to lodge a complaint with AHPRA.