Public health

Chiropractors flout AHPRA guidelines with misleading claims

An audit has found that 72% of advertising claims made by chiropractors are in breach of AHPRA guidelines.

Many of the claims made by chiropractors on their websites and Facebook pages were potentially harmful, such as misleading or unsubstantiated claims and misuse of the scientific literature, according to a review of advertising by 359 chiropractors conducted by researchers at Murdoch University, WA.

The study also found that 61% of claims made by 380 physiotherapists had breaches of advertising guidelines, but these were confined to minor breaches such as using testimonials or displaying association membership as postnominals or specialisation claims.

Physiotherapists made no major misleading claims, whereas 231 (71%) of the 326 misleading claims made by chiropractors were considered major misleading claims.

“Most of the chiropractors had more at-risk advertising and the nature of the at-risk advertising had a greater potential to cause harm,” concluded researcher Keith Simpson of the Murdoch University School of Chiropractic.

The paper cited examples of misleading chiropractor claims to create unwarranted and unrealistic expectations about service effectiveness, such as stating that “Research has shown chiropractic to be an effective form of health care for back pain, neck pain, headaches, reflux, bedwetting, ear aches, otitis media, leg pains, headaches, migraine, visual disturbances, dizziness, breathing difficulties, asthma, constipation and dysmenorrhea”.

Examples of unfounded claims revealed by the audit included statements by chiropractors such as “Integrative Diagnosis is the only complete system for the diagnosis and conservative treatment of muscle, nerve and joint problems … [unlike other chiropractors] we can accurately and quickly diagnose what is causing your lower back pain.”

Other breaches made by chiropractors included promotion of unscientific tests for conditions such as “undetected spinal joint dysfunctions” and carpal tunnel syndrome.

The study author  said the high rates false advertising by chiropractors were a major cause for concern because they represented a risk to public safety and raised questions about the profession’s culture and understanding of its professional obligations, the study author  wrote.

He noted that AHPRA’s annual reports only provide the number of advertising complaints broken down by health profession. The rate of advertising compliance and the types of at-risk advertising within the professions is unknown.

“AHPRA, professional associations and educational bodies may find the data from this audit helpful in designing further research and developing interventions that raise compliance by chiropractors and physiotherapists and protect the public from harm,” he stated.

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