CBC Investigates Advertising by some Manitoba chiropractors undermines public health, expert says

Written by Jacques Marcoux, Katie Pedersen, Katie Nicholson, CBC News.

Jacques Marcoux, Katie Pedersen, Katie Nicholson, CBC News

Statements circulated by dozens of Manitoba chiropractors are misleading and potentially harmful, says a public health expert.

"There is no evidence that chiropractic is effective in treating cancer and autism and any of those things that they are apparently claiming that they can treat," said Dr. Alan Katz, director of the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy.

 

A CBC News analysis of company websites and Facebook pages of every registered chiropractor in Manitoba found several dozen examples of statements, claims and social media content at odds with many public health policies or medical research.

Examples include:

  • Offers of treatments for autism, Tourette's syndrome, Alzheimer's disease, colic, infections and cancer.
  • Anti-vaccination literature and recently published letters to the editor from chiropractors that discourage vaccination.
  • An article claiming vaccines have caused a 200 to 600 per cent increase in autism rates.
  • A statement that claims the education and training of a chiropractor is "virtually identical" to that of a medical doctor.
  • Discouraging people from getting diagnostic tests such as CT scans, colonoscopies and mammograms.

An informational video discouraging the use of sunscreen.

Based on the Manitoba Chiropractors Association membership listing, there are approximately 275 licensed practitioners working out of 215 offices. CBC News found questionable online content linked to more than 30 chiropractic offices.

Dr. Katz reviewed the examples gathered by the CBC I-Team and labelled most of them "misinformation."

"It misleads the public in two areas. Firstly, those who choose to go for chiropractic care, particularly for things like infection and autism and things that we know they're not going to be beneficial for, it misleads those individuals and gives them false hope for treatment that will not be effective," he said.

"Putting these things up on their website also puts the doubt in the minds of others about what we do know works, and as a result those people may not seek the right type of care for conditions that could deteriorate if they don't seek that care."

The Manitoba Chiropractors Association declined an interview request but did say it would review the content.

"As the regulatory body that oversees the practice of chiropractic in Manitoba, we will review the material you have shared with us in a thorough manner as provided for by our internal processes," said Ernie Miron, a chiropractic doctor and the association registrar.

The Manitoba Chiropractors Association has previously addressed certain issues with its membership through an internal communication.

"In Manitoba, the administration of 'vaccination and immunization' currently falls outside the scope of chiropractic practice," the communication said. It also cautioned members that:

  • "Chiropractors may be liable for opinions they provide to patients/public in circumstances where it would be reasonably foreseeable that the individual receiving the opinion would rely on it.
  • "Providing professional opinions on the issue of vaccination and immunization would likely be found by a court to be outside the scope of practice of a chiropractor."

The association also said, "The degree to which a chiropractor can or cannot discuss 'vaccination and immunization' or other health-care procedures that are outside the scope of practice with a patient is currently being reviewed by the board of directors."

Manitoba is the only province in the country that universally covers a portion of chiropractic treatments for all residents, to a limit of 12 visits per year.

In 2016, the province paid out $11.9 million for a total of 984,432 claims from 166,897 unique patients.

The fact that members of a regulated health profession are actively disseminating questionable medical information while benefiting from public funds is cause for concern, Katz said.

"Should we as a society be paying for the services of professionals, and I use that word loosely, that are advocating care that is contrary to the official public policy?"

Manitoba's health minister didn't comment on the issue, but Manitoba Health provided a statement after it was given examples of the information.

"We offer a publicly funded vaccine program that follows national guidelines on immunization and we encourage Manitobans to get vaccinated. But vaccination is always a matter of informed consent between a practitioner and a patient, based on an informed evaluation of the benefits and risks. If any practitioner provides advice that is contrary to our position, we do not agree with it."

A letter by Winnipeg chiropractor Henri Marcoux was published last February in Manitoba's francophone weekly newspaper La Liberté, in response to an article in which a regional health authority expert was interviewed about influenza immunizations.

Marcoux wrote that he does not recommend flu vaccines, calling them "toxic." He further stated that the flu virus actually "purifies our systems" and said that he believes flu vaccines are "driven by a vast operation orchestrated by pharmaceutical companies."

People should instead focus on general wellness — which includes chiropractic treatment — to stave off the flu, he wrote.

Now-retired chiropractor and long-time anti-vaccination advocate Gérald Bohémier wrote a later letter in support of Marcoux that also appeared in La Liberté.

Letters then poured in from members of the community, including a resident and two physicians who took exception to these statements.

Marcoux told the CBC's French service, Radio-Canada, that he does not believe his views are at odds with public health.

He stands by his letter, he said, adding if society as a whole took health and wellness more seriously — rather than trying to treat symptoms — the need for vaccines would dissipate or never would have existed in the first place.


Facts on chiropractic services

  • Chiropractors in Manitoba are authorized by the Chiropractic Act to use the title "doctor," but only if the individual displays or makes use of the word "chiropractic" or "chiropractor" immediately before or after the name.
  • In 2016, Manitoba Public Insurance spent $7.5 million on 176,820 chiropractic treatments.
  • In 2016, the Worker's Compensation Board spent $1.9 million on 48,226 chiropractic treatments.
  • Chiropractic services have been covered by Manitoba Health since 1969.
  • British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan all offer some form of public coverage, but only for limited groups, such as seniors and people on social assistance.
  • Ontario delisted chiropractic coverage in 2004 in a wave of health-care cuts.