Complementary medicine docs gain protection

Doctors who practice complementary or nontraditional medicine in Manitoba are breathing a little easier these days. So are their patients. On June 13, the Manitoba legislature passed Bill 207, an amendment to the Medical Act which reads:

“A member shall not be found guilty of professional misconduct or of incompetence ... solely on the basis that the member practices a therapy that is nontraditional or that departs from the prevailing medical practice unless there is evidence that proves that the therapy poses a greater risk to a patient’s health than the traditional or prevailing practice.”

Doctors who practice outside the mainstream medical box in Manitoba now have increased protection from arbitrary discipline by medical bodies, unless the therapies they use are of greater harm than mainstream medical techniques. The private memberís bill was unanimously approved by all parties, making Manitoba the third province to adopt this amending clause.

Minister of Health Tim Sale, who supported the private memberís bill, stated in the Legislature, ď...the intent of the bill ... is to allow new practices to emerge and to be appropriately tested without the practitioner being in jeopardy by virtue of simply using a new procedure which is not harmful and may be of more benefit than traditional procedures.Ē

The amendment insures that patients have access to a wider range of therapies, including therapies which are used in parts of the world which are less dependent on pharmaceuticals, and therapies which are innovative and not yet in common usage. It allows patients more freedom of choice in health care by lessening the chances that doctors who practice these techniques will be disciplined. It opens the door for doctors to study and practice therapies they believe to be helpful, even if these therapies have not yet become accepted by mainstream medicine. It also encourages healthy discussion among physicians about new treatment methods.

Ontario adopted the same amendment to its Medical Act in 2000, at the height of public outcry against over disciplinary cases against doctors. More than forty doctors were being disciplined by the College of Physicians and Surgeons (COPS), the licensing and disciplinary body. No patient complaints had been received against these doctors, and there was no evidence provided in disciplinary hearings that any harm had been done to patients. In fact, in at least one case, the lawyer for the COPS stated that “Patient outcome is not the issue.”

What did distinguish the doctors was that they tended to use fewer pharmaceuticals than most doctors, and that they used, or recommended, natural remedies. Among the doctors disciplined in Ontario were a doctor specializing in treating asthma, who used immunotherapy (as recommended by the World Health Organization), rather than corticosteroids, a psychiatrist specializing in chronic pain who is considered a world leader in developing chronic pain treatment guidelines, and an environmental medicine physician who was found guilty of diagnosing chemical sensitivity and ordered in future to make “conventional diagnoses.” All of these doctors had excellent results in treating patients. Their patients, who vocally opposed the disciplinary actions, had in most cases sought out these physicians and their alternative techniques when they were unable to be helped by traditional therapies.

With the introduction of the amendment in Ontario, thirty doctors who appealed their disciplinary decisions to Ontario courts all won their cases.

Doctors in other provinces have also lost their licenses or had restrictions placed on the way they can practice medicine for similar reasons. Only a small number of these cases come to public attention. But all doctors are aware of the risk they take in practicing medicine which does not strictly conform to prevailing medical guidelines.

Alberta passed an almost identical amendment 1997, and at least eight states in the US have similar legislation. In the years since the amendments have come into effect in Ontario and Alberta, no complaints of patient harm against doctors practicing complementary or nontraditional therapies have been made.”