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Dialogue with the Oxford Chiropractic Clinic

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Skeleton, by PhOtOnQuAnTiQuE

So, a few people have been contacting their local friendly chiropractors regarding the recent ASA ruling. I think Martin was the first; jdc325 and Tristan have also done their bit, the latter with remarkable success!

The ASA ruling states that the chiropractor could not “refer to the treatment of IBS, colic and learning difficulties” in his advertising. Now, it should be noted that the ASA do not regulate advertising on websites (but, randomly, they do on leaflets!) However, the General Chiropractic Council’s own Code of Practice states that chiropractors may “publicise their practices or permit another person to do so consistent with the law and the guidance issued by the Advertising Standards Authority.” My interpretation of the GCC guidelines is that they extend the ASA’s recommendations from advertising to all information published by GCC members.

Please note: I have no reason to believe Oxford Chiropractic Clinic are being deliberately dishonest or are trying to mislead the public. I also do not believe their claims are significantly different from any other chiropractor, or even the General Chiropractic Council. They happened to be local to me, so I contacted them. I am sure they are perfectly capable chiropractors, highly trained in their vocation, and their ability and willingness to twist your spine is up there with the best of them. My only motivation in contacting them was trying to ensure that any efficacy claims presented on chiropractors’ websites are substantiated and backed up by evidence.

On Monday 25 May I sent the following to the Oxford Chiropractic Clinic:

I am writing to request that you remove misleading claims from your website at http://oxfordchiroclinic.com/. I wanted to give you an opportunity to respond before contacting the General Chiropractic Council.

On page http://oxfordchiroclinic.com/wellness_topics/14_Colic.html you suggest that chiropractic may help with colic.

On 20 May the Advertising Standards Authority ruled in the case of Dr. Carl Irwin that the chiropractor could not continue to refer to the treatment of colic. The ruling is available here: http://www.asa.org.uk/asa/adjudications/Public/TF_ADJ_46281.htm

According to the General Chiropractic Council’s Code of Practice, available at http://www.gcc-uk.org/files/link_file/COPSOP_Dec05_WEB(with_glossary)07Jan09.pdf, chiropractors “may publicise their practices or permit another person to do so consistent with the law and the guidance issued by the Advertising Standards Authority.”

The ASA ruling is incompatible with the claims currently displayed on your website, and therefore would appear to place you in breach of GCC guidelines.

Please let me know when you have remedied the situation, or explain why you think this ruling does not apply to you.

Today my patience was rewarded with the following message:

Thank you for your interest in our website. In common with other regulated health professionals (including chartered physiotherapists) who utilise a similar technique to ours, we have found that babies with colic respond well to chiropractic care. At Oxford Chiropractic Clinic we have been successfully treating children for 27 years and our website explains the range of options available to parents of infants suffering from colic, itself an ill-defined condition with no clear aetiology.

Your e-mail contains the threat that you will contact the General Chiropractic Council if I do not remove certain materials from the Oxford Chiropractic Clinic website. You also refer to the ASA guidelines and ask why I think the ruling does not apply to me.

I understand that you are a research scientist. If this is correct, I am sure that you will understand the importance of having properly researched your information before seeking to threaten individuals. Had you bothered to go to the ASA website (http://www.asa.org.uk/asa/about/Guided%20Tours/New%20Media/) you would have seen that the ASA Code does not cover claims made by companies on their own websites.

It is a shame when those who are ill-informed seek to disrupt the legitimate business activities of others; still worse when they make threats based on false information. I would suggest that before sending such emails in the future you might reflect on your motives and question the wisdom of your actions.

I actually think it’s mighty nice of them to reply, and I thank Oxford Chiropractic Clinic for taking the time. However, a few things strike me as strange.

  1. Thrice they mention that I have sent them a “threat”. I am “threatening” to contact the GCC. I don’t understand why the Oxford Chiropractic Clinic considers it threatening if I contact a regulatory body to ensure its member is compliant.
  2. The paragraph “I understand that you are a research scientist…” seems to be taken nearly verbatim from Russell Dean’s reply to Martin, except for that reference to my “threats”, and the pieced-together reminder of the “importance of having properly researched your information before seeking to threaten individuals.” (That’s the first lecture in Research Science 101: first research information, then seek to threaten individuals.)
  3. The last sentence in particular seems somehow menacing. Maybe as a non-native English speaker I’m just misinterpreting it, but are they suggesting that making sure healthcare practictioners comply with the appropriate regulation is unwise?

So, erm, that’s what I told them in a reply.

Thank you for your email.

Had you bothered to go to the ASA website (http://www.asa.org.uk/asa/about/Guided%20Tours/New%20Media/) you would have seen that the ASA Code does not cover claims made by companies on their own websites.

I had indeed.

As I pointed out in my email, the GCC permits its members to “publicise their practices […] consistent with the law and the guidance issued by the Advertising Standards Authority.” My interpretation of the wording is that, even though websites are outside of the ASA’s jurisdiction, the GCC clause extends the ASA guidance to any publication. In other words, a website that promotes chiropractic for the treatment of colic is not “consistent with the guidance issues by the ASA” as defined by the GCC. As I said earlier, I wanted to get your interpretation of the rule before approaching the GCC for clarification.

It is a shame when those who are ill-informed seek to disrupt the legitimate business activities of others; still worse when they make threats based on false information.

It is certainly not my intention to disrupt legitimate business. I do believe there is a certain amount of evidence that chiropractic treatment may be useful for certain musculoskeletal conditions. However, I don’t believe there is credible evidence to support the claim that that chiropractic is effective for colic. If you are able to provide such evidence, I’ll be happy to retract any objections I have to your website content.

Also, I am not entirely sure what ‘threat’ you refer to. Do you consider it threatening if I contact a regulatory body to ensure its member is compliant?

I would suggest that before sending such emails in the future you might reflect on your motives and question the wisdom of your actions.

I hope you agree that the regulation of healthcare, alternative or not, is very important for the safety of the public. Do you feel that making sure healthcare practictioners comply with such regulation is “unwise”?

I guess next up is contacting the GCC for clarification. Unless of course I find in my inbox a peer-reviewed, methologically sound study that proves that chiropractic can treat colic. Then I’m happy to apologise and admit defeat.

7 Comments

  1. While I am definitely on your side of the fence regarding chiropractic, I remain unconvinced that the GCC rules extend the ASA Code in any way. The GCC requires that their members observe the guidance of the ASA Code, and that code explicitly offers no guidance at all concerning websites.

  2. “The paragraph “I understand that you are a research scientist…” seems to be taken nearly verbatim from Russell Dean’s reply to Martin”

    Yeah… I’m getting the distinct impression that this was discussed on some Chiropracty forum somewhere.

  3. NB The ASA code *does* apply to websites, but only websites that carry *adverts* for other businesses. The ASA code does not apply to claims made on a business’s own website.

    Mike

  4. Excellent work! Please keep us informed of any progress.

    We do need to call them all to account and ensure they are abiding by the GCC rules. The GCC seem unwilling to do it (although they do seem to react quite well to a few extreme cases), so someone has to! Watch this space…

    Schroedinger99 is correct, of course, but it doesn’t look like many chiroquacktors advertise elsewhere – I don’t think I’ve seen an advert on another website. However, I do check any local papers and I’ll check local papers’ websites later.

  5. Excellent stuff.
    Must be rewarding slating others all day long.
    Maybe time you took your head out your arse and start doing something more constructive

  6. Thank you for your comments so far. Especially Peter’s was very constructive.

  7. Some chiropractors oppose vaccination and water fluoridation, which are common public health practices. Chiropractors’ attempts to establish a positive reputation for their public health role are also compromised by their reputation for recommending repetitive life-long chiropractic treatment.

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