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Bogus Arguments for Unproven Treatments

March 11, 2012

Chiropractics? Acupuncture? Megavitamins? Neurofeedback? Hypnosis? As medical services expand, so to do many unproven treatments. My blog today focuses on the arguments made by advocates of unproven treatments. This blog is inspired by a published article by E. Ernst in The International Journal of Clinical Practice, March 2012. He is a physician in England. It is very unlikely you will be able to get a reprint so I share parts of it with you. He highlights 6 “talking points” such advocates make in the public press and I will list 3 of them for you.

1. Patients are whole individuals.

The arguments goes “Patients are whole individuals and as such should be treated as a whole in body, mind, and spirit.” Specialized medical treatments have lent themselves to this argument because several specialists maybe needed to treat a patient. However, the medical treatments for patients have grown so highly sophisticated that no one physician can master all there is to know. Good medicine has always considered these 3 element, body, mind, and spirit in patient care and this is taught to first year medical students. Let’s not criticize medical treatment because there is so much information and more specialized care to improve outcomes of illness and disease.

2. We must treat the causes of illness.

This argument posits that medical care treats symptoms not actually disease or that many treatments used are not research proven. And so, other unproven “medical” treatments should be available to patients. As the argument goes, cases citing patient improvement are enough to establish benefit. Unfortunately, illusions of causality are at heart of pseudoscience (E. Ernst). Scientific rigor of controlled trials is the foundation of the advancement of medical treatments.

3. Patient choice is the ultimate arbiter

That’s to say that a patient should decide what care he/she gets. That sounds good and we’d all agree, except that patients are generally not adequately informed, knowledgeable, or ,worse, misinformed to make the best informed decision. This assertion of patient choice leaves a patient vulnerable to the sales pitch of unproven treatments. This is not to say patients shouldn’t make their own choice of treatment but it should be born out of a reasonable understanding of pros and cons of each treatment option from reliable sources of information. Let science be the designated driver on the highway of opinions.

Why do I consider the above “talking points” a hazard to patient care? As Dr. Ernst writes “Patients and policy-makers can be misled into feeling that the integration of unproven therapies offers the provision of patient-centered, effective and healthcare.” Not only will this jeopardize patient care, we’ll increase the cost of care while adding little to the advancement of medicine.

Thank you again for your interest in reading this blog.

David W. Goodman, M.D.

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