June 7, 2009

Read The Article

One of my big gripes about journalism is when headlines are deceptive and do not accurately summarize what is described in the article. Today brings a good example: judging from the headline in this article from the Associated Press ("Alternative Medicine Goes Mainstream"), one might think that "alternative medicine" is gaining significant acceptance by the mainstream medical establishment.

It is not -- at least, not in the sense that any real doctors think it actually does anything. Read the article and you'll see why. Nearly every paragraph in the article contains facts which indicate why you should not use alternative medicines, why big hospitals are irresponsible for offering woo and calling it "treatment," and why the public and insurance premium payers are being bilked by the providers of this woo:
Government actions and powerful interest groups have left consumers vulnerable to flawed products and misleading marketing.

Dietary supplements do not have to be proved safe or effective before they can be sold.

Some interfere with other things you may be taking, such as birth control pills.

...many of these products are made by big businesses.

Ingredients and their countries of origin are a mystery to consumers.

hey are marketed in ways that manipulate emotions, just like ads for hot cars and cool clothes. Some make claims that average people can't parse as proof of effectiveness or blather, like "restores cell-to-cell communication."

Even therapies that may help certain conditions, such as acupuncture, are being touted for uses beyond their evidence.

...more than $2.5 billion of tax-financed research has not found any cures or major treatment advances, aside from certain uses for acupuncture and ginger for chemotherapy-related nausea. If anything, evidence has mounted that many of these pills and therapies lack value.

...some offer treatments with little or no scientific basis, to patients who are emotionally vulnerable and gravely ill. The Baltimore hospital, for example, is not charging for Reiki but wants to if it can be shown to help. Other hospitals earn fees from treatments such as acupuncture, which insurance does not always cover if the purpose is not sufficiently proven.

Health insurers are cutting deals to let alternative medicine providers market supplements and services directly to members. At least one insurer promotes these to members with a discount, perhaps leaving an incorrect impression they are covered services and medically sound. Some insurers steer patients to Internet sellers of supplements, even though patients must pay for these out of pocket.

A few herbal supplements can directly threaten health. A surprising number do not supply what their labels claim, contain potentially harmful substances like lead, or are laced with hidden versions of prescription drugs. [¶] "In testing, one out of four supplements has a problem," said Dr. Tod Cooperman, president of ConsumerLab.com, an independent company that rates such products.

...spending money for a product with no proven benefit is no small harm when the economy is bad and people can't afford health insurance or healthy food.

Cancer patients can lose their only chance of beating the disease by gambling on unproven treatments. People with clogged arteries can suffer a heart attack. Children can be harmed by unproven therapies forced on them by parents who distrust conventional medicine.

at least there are regulatory systems, guideline-setting groups and watchdog agencies helping to keep traditional medicine in line. [¶] The safety net for alternative medicine is far flimsier. ... Some states license certain types, like acupuncturists; others do not.

Some studies suggest that vitamin deficiencies can raise the risk of disease. But it is not clear that taking supplements will fix that, and research has found hints of harm, said Dr. Jeffrey White, complementary and alternative medicine chief at the National Cancer Institute.

The Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act of 1994 exempted such products from needing FDA approval or proof of safety or effectiveness before they go on sale. [¶] "That has resulted in consumers wasting billions of dollars on products of either no or dubious benefit," said [Bruce Silverglade of the consumer group Center for Science in the Public Interest.]

People need to keep a healthy skepticism about that magical marketing term "natural," said Kathy Allen, a dietitian at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla. [¶] The truth is, supplements lack proof of safety or benefit. Asked to take a drug under those terms, "most of us would say 'no,'" Allen said. "When it says 'natural,' the perception is there is no harm. And that is just not true."

I didn't write any of that, it's all from the article. I've quoted 616 out of 1818 words in the article -- more than a third of it. My point is to demonstrate that the headline does not accurately explain the contents of the article, which any reasonable person would read and think to not use alternative medicine.

Now, what would be interesting to learn is just how much money is spent on woo, how much of it is paid by insurers, and how much of it is being paid by the government.

No comments: