DOCTORS who prescribe alternative therapies – and health funds that offer rebates for them – are misusing taxpayer funds, a professor of medicine has argued.
University of New South Wales John Dwyer said that doctors should be ”the bastions of evidence-based approaches to health care” and not offer unproven treatments, in an opinion piece published in The Medical Journal of Australia.
”Medicare dollars are precious, and it is surely unethical to ask the taxpayer to foot the bill for unproven, highly suspect or useless treatments,” he said.
Professor Dwyer said consumers were ”bombarded with fraudulent advertising telling them vitamins cure stress and provide energy, weight loss is guaranteed with this herbal preparation, glucosamine will take you from the wheelchair to the golf course [and] foot vibrators will cure your ankle oedema”.
But, he said, doctors offering alternative therapies – which are used by half of Australians – were abandoning scientific medicine.
”To see how professional standards can be consumed by the attractions of less scientifically rigid approaches, one has only to look at what has happened to the scientifically trained men and women of pharmacy, whose shelves are stacked with useless products they knowingly promote to trusting customers,” he said.
Professor Dwyer has cited the diet spray SensaSlim – whose backers are accused of fabricating research used as a basis for the product’s marketing – as the most recent case of misinformation. He said studies were needed to determine the effectiveness of alternative therapies, but many were already known to be useless – including homeopathy, iridology, reflexology and healing touch.
Also writing in the journal, general practitioner Marie Pirotta said alternative therapies incorporated a wide range of approaches ”from the esoteric and bizarre through to therapies with accumulating evidence of effectiveness, such as St John’s wort for mild to moderate depression”.
Dr Pirotta agreed that many alternative therapies lacked high-quality evidence but said ”this should not be taken as proof that a given [therapy] is ineffective or harmful”.
She said alternative therapies were largely safe, and it was ethical to prescribe them within the context of a careful diagnosis where GPs had accumulated knowledge of their use over time.