News

7 May, 2019

Medical Board Targets Integrative Doctors


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The Medical Board of Australia (MBA) is seeking public feedback on new guidelines tightening regulation of medical practitioners who integrate “complementary and unconventional medicine and emerging treatments” into their practise. This comes at a time when the Australian public are seeking greater access to broader options to complement conventional care.

This places the right of patients to determine their own medical care at risk.

As they stand, the new proposed guidelines could impact doctors, Registered complementary practitioners, allied health professionals, pharmacists, compounding pharmacists and functional testing labs who work alongside integrative medicine practitioners. It is also a fundamental challenge to medical practitioners’ clinical autonomy and ability to act in the best interests of their patients. According to anaesthetist, family and emergency medicine practitioner Dr. David Milne,

“As more physicians are being told where to practise, how to practise and what services to provide, there are concerns that the autonomy of the physician as an independent contractor and patient advocate is being significantly eroded”

The move appears to be an attempt by the MBA to suppress the practice of medical practitioners who offer their patients anything other than what they consider to be ‘conventional’ medical treatments and diagnostic tools – without actually defining the difference between ‘conventional’ vs ‘unconventional’.

With around 70% of the Australian community using complementary medicine services and products and around 30% of Australian GPs utilising some aspect of complementary medicine within their medical practice, it could even be argued that this IS current ‘conventional medicine’.

If adopted, integrative medical practitioners may face restrictions on treatments they currently offer that are not considered ‘conventional’ medicine. This may include bans on use of vitamins, minerals, herbal supplements, natural therapies and diagnostic testing, with broader impacts on the complementary medicine and natural therapies sector.

Your Health You Choice has made it simple for you to have your voice heard and to provide feedback to the MBA via the online form – which can be accessed here: https://www.yourhealthyourchoice.com.au/mba-submissions/.

Further background – including how you can act – is provided below.

What is the MBA proposing?

The MBA guideline and consultation paper (which can be accessed here) proposes two Options:

  • Option 1 – keep the current guidelines and maintain status quo
  • Option 2 – adopt the new guidelines.

The MBA has already decided that Option 2 is its preferred option and is undertaking public consultation because the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law requires it to. Whether the MBA keeps to its position is now in the hands of the public (you).

Will this also impact registered traditional medicine practitioners?

The MBA consultation paper states,
“Some definitions of complementary and/or alternative therapies include the regulated health professions of chiropractic, osteopathy, Chinese medicine and acupuncture.”

By framing complementary & traditional medicine as ‘fringe’, the new guidelines open the door for chiropractors, osteopaths and Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners, who are registered under the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA), to also be targeted.

What’s behind the change?

According to the MBA, “concerns have been raised by stakeholders” about medical practitioners who provide ‘complementary or unconventional medicine and emerging treatments’, without revealing who these ‘stakeholders’ are.

It is likely that fringe medico-skeptic groups have influenced their networks within the MBA, as part of their ongoing campaign to marginalise complementary medicine and anyone who uses it.

In developing the new guidelines the MBA did not consult the key stakeholders – the integrative/ complementary medicine communities and patients – begging the question, ‘who benefits?’

Despite the exemplary safety record of complementary and alternative therapies and many of the “unconventional” devices and therapies being approved for use, the MBA claims additional guidance for medical practitioners is required to support “safe practice and ensure safeguards for patients”. 

The MBA is attempting to group integrative medicine with ‘unconventional medicine’ and ’emerging treatments’, which by association implies that integrative medicine is somehow ‘fringe’, rather than based in evidence and a valid and important adjunct to medical practice.

Make a submission & let the MBA know why you value right of choice in healthcare:

By far the most powerful way you can provide feedback to the MBA is by sharing your personal experience with integrative and complementary medicine – via this link.

You may wish to include any or all of the following points in your submission:

Why you support patient access to integrative and complementary medicine and doctors’ right to offer it

How integrative and complementary medicine has helped you, your family & friends

Reasons why you use integrative and complementary medicine

What it will mean to you if the MBA imposes restrictions on Integrative medicine practitioners?

It is important that as many members of the public as possible make their voices heard on the proposed MBA guidelines to protect their right of choice and the right of medical practitioners to offer their patients beneficial integrative healthcare options without threat of retribution.

Other points to consider:

There have been no real-world safety issues associated with the use of an integrative medical approach and the MBA consultation paper provides no actual evidence of adverse safety risk to justify the need to tighten their guidelines.

Integrative GPs are highly trained, specialist doctors educated beyond their medical tertiary qualifications. They integrate a range of safe and effective evidence-based interventions for the benefit of patients who do not always benefit from conventional treatments alone, or who benefit most from a combination of both.

Complementary medicine interventions have an exemplary safety record and pose a negligible risk to patients, especially compared with many conventional treatments, which is why many GPs choose to integrate them in their treatment plans (to minimise patient safety risk).

The current guidelines (Option 1) have operated successfully without any tangible evidence provided that they need changing.

Proactive complementary medicine use is cost-effective and saves money from the public purse.

Doctors’ practise is already adequately regulated by the current Good Medical Practice: A Code of Conduct for Doctors in Australia, which also protects patient safety; there is no evidence for the need for a 2 tiered divisive approach.

The term ‘complementary medicine’ also includes access to traditional medicines which is defined as a basic human right in Australia and by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The lack of clarity on how to determine what is ‘conventional’ vs. ‘unconventional’ increases the likelihood of the guidelines being misused by people with professional differences of opinion, opening the door for doctors who use integrative methods to be unfairly and unreasonably targeted by vexatious complaints and/or face sanctions that restrict their scope of practise, which in turn restricts patient right of choice to access these methods.

Medical practitioners that offer integrative approaches, who were not consulted, are strongly opposed to the guidelines.

Once central to their professional identity, Australian GPs’ view clinical autonomy, control and possession of specific skills as an integral safeguard to practice, ensuring their patients’ needs are always put first. Regardless of the values being pursued, clinical autonomy is not compatible with control by another, as hidden agendas and conflicts of interest inevitably arise.

According to Marcus Blackmore AM,

“The MBA proposal lumps together ‘complementary medicine with unconventional medicine and emerging therapies’ into a single definition. They’re not the same.”

“As in any profession there are good and bad practitioners. We can’t have one rule for some practitioners and one rule for others. The key is ensuring regulation is focussed on the health and safety of ALL Australians. There should be only ONE set of good practice guidelines that ALL doctors should follow.”

Further resources:

Prof Stephen Myers – Complementary Medicine under Siege. A respected academic in complementary and integrative medicine, Prof Myers shares his educated opinion whether the MBA is attempting to suppress the use of complementary medicines by lumping them into the same category as “unconventional medicine and emerging treatments”.

Dr Penny Caldicott – Concerns over complementary medicine suppression

Complementary Medicines Australia (CMA) position statement.

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