British Columbia

College registrar says 'I won't hesitate' to file complaints on chiropractors' false claims

More than a week after the deadline for B.C. chiropractors to remove all scientifically unsupported claims from their advertising, the websites of several practitioners still offer treatments for conditions like autism and ear infections.

Several unscientific claims still live online, but others have been removed since deadline for crackdown

The B.C. Chiropractic Association says most practitioners in this province support evidence-based treatments. (Konstantin Shadrin/Shutterstock)

More than a week after the deadline for B.C. chiropractors to remove all scientifically unsupported claims from their advertising, the websites of several practitioners still offer treatments for conditions like autism and ear infections.

But the College of Chiropractors of B.C. is promising its crackdown on misleading advertising has just begun — and anyone who resists requests to clean up their marketing materials faces possible discipline.

"Support for the policy by registrants has been without exception, and compliance by those registrants that have been advised of unacceptable marketing has been excellent," college registrar Richard Simpson wrote in an email.

"I would also note that if there are instances where voluntary compliance with policy does not occur in a timely manner, I won't hesitate to initiate a complaint and have it proceed through the college's existing complaint process."

He said that hasn't been necessary so far.

Last month, the college gave notice to chiropractors that they had until Nov. 1 to take down all scientifically unsupported claims from their websites, social media pages and printed advertising. That includes suggestions that chiropractic therapies can be used to treat everything from Alzheimer's disease to cancer and diabetes.

Simpson said the college reviewed dozens of pages in the weeks leading up to the deadline, and spoke to chiropractors about whether their online marketing was up to snuff. All of those practitioners removed unsupported claims when asked, he added.

A small sample of some misleading claims posted online by B.C. chiropractors that were still live this week. (CBC)

Since the Nov. 1 deadline, Simpson said there's been one electronic sweep of chiropractors' online materials, but it's too early to provide any data on how many posts have been removed.

Over the last week, CBC readers have pointed out numerous examples of B.C. chiropractors who are still claiming to treat conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), ear infections, flu and infertility — breaching college policy.

There are also a few examples of anti-vaccination material although chiropractors are specifically prohibited from discussing immunization because they aren't trained in infectious diseases.

New board member's posts removed

Two examples provided by members of the public were from the Abbotsford clinic of Todd Marshall who was elected to the college's board at an annual general meeting last weekend. Those posts claimed chiropractic treatments could be useful for children with ADHD and ear infections.

CBC alerted Simpson to Marshall's posts on Friday, and they were taken down within hours. Marshall did not respond to a request for comment.

Simpson said board members will face extra scrutiny during the enforcement drive.

"I will say that I will be monitoring board members' marketing materials more frequently. The board, the registrants and the public expect that of the regulator," he said.

A Facebook post (left) and website entry (right) from chiropractor Todd Marshall's Abbotsford clinic were both taken down on Friday. (CBC)

And this week, for anyone paying close attention, it was possible to watch in real time as a few chiropractors removed unscientific claims from their Facebook pages and websites.

A handful of posts that were live on Monday morning were gone by Friday afternoon.

The same was true about the majority of posts included in CBC's original story about the college crackdown which linked to 10 Facebook posts or webpages that appeared to violate college policy.

Just one of those was still online and unedited as of Friday afternoon — a Vancouver chiropractor's claim that skull adjustments can be used to treat autism spectrum disorder.

'Vitalists' vs. evidence-informed chiropractors

What's happening at the chiropractors' college is a symptom of a larger struggle building within the profession across Canada.

On one side are the chiropractors who advocate for evidence-based practice. On the other are so-called "vitalists," who suggest that slight vertebral misalignments or subluxations are the root cause of many diseases, and claim they can treat conditions like autism and ear infections.

According to Jay Robinson, president of the B.C. Chiropractic Association, science-based practitioners far outnumber vitalists in this province.

"We know that a very high majority of chiropractors in British Columbia support an evidence informed practice. Members in B.C. are supportive of regulation that will address misleading advertising," Robinson wrote in an email.

He said his voluntary professional organization is working with the college to implement the efficacy claims policy.

There is some evidence that some B.C. chiropractors have been pushing for a while to eliminate scientifically unsupported claims.

As CBC has reported, the college board's former vice-chair Avtar Jassal resigned from his position in the spring in response to complaints about a video he'd posted on Facebook claiming smoothies are more effective than the flu shot.

At the time, Robinson revealed that his association had been contacting the college for more than a year about Jassal's anti-vaccination posts on Facebook.

Meanwhile, the college says the majority of complaints it received last year about practitioners' misleading advertisements came from their fellow chiropractors.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bethany Lindsay

Journalist

Bethany Lindsay is a B.C. journalist with a focus on the courts, health, science and social justice issues. Questions or news tips? Get in touch at bethany.lindsay@cbc.ca or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay.

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