Editor's note: While Dr. Andersen's column topic is nutrition, approximately once a year he devotes this column space to discussing other issues relevant to the practice of chiropractic. Such is the case with the following article.
Ten years ago, I wrote a commentary titled "How to Choose a Chiropractor" (Jan. 28, 2002 issue). It has generated as much mail as the other 200-plus articles I have written for Dynamic Chiropractic combined. When it was published, the interest was so high that DC devoted two issues of its "We Get Letters" section to the feedback. Both issues also published many more letters than normal. And the second issue ended with a note alerting readers that the "We Get Letters" section would be returning to other pressing topics, while acknowledging interest and feedback continued to be high.
For those of you who missed it, I confronted the issues that give us a bad name and harm our reputation as conservative health care providers, including unnecessary treatment, excessive visits, overuse of X-rays, reluctance to refer, tricks and gimmicks to have current patients who should be released to continue care and/or attract new patients who do not need care. In other words, it was a line-in-the-sand approach to chiropractic's version of the famous Hatfield and McCoy feud of the 1880s, which I sum up as follows: those who practice to "fix your back" versus those who practice to "get you back." As you can imagine, those who practice to "get you back" were extremely unhappy.
The vast majority of letters I received back then, and continue to get today, are from chiropractors. But every now and then, a patient will see the article on the Web and write. On Jan. 6, 2012, almost 10 years to the day I submitted the article, I received this e-mail from a patient I'll call "Lucy":
"Your article, 'How to Choose a Chiropractor,' is spot on. It validates what I have been saying to mine. But I really think he does believe in multiple visits and coming in when things are fine. He tells me that I 'don't trust him.' I am very agitated by hearing that. I just went today and now, as usual, my middle back hurts. I have been told for years that my sacroiliac joint is rotated. They keep fixing it but obviously it doesn't stay – so why fix it when I have no pain?
"I am told that I have to keep coming in to correct things that do not give me a problem. I will now feel terrible for a few weeks with discomfort walking, standing and just leaning over to do the dishes. I went there today because there was a knot in my calf; I told him no neck adjustments and I didn't think he was going to do my back, but he did. He said the nerves in my middle back are causing the problem in my calf.'"
After a few lines reiterating her frustration and how she will not return to this particular DC, she said:
"One time recently he wanted to do a full X-ray of everything – I told him I was dealing with thyroid cancer and had zero tolerance for another drop of radiation. (I had radiation as a child for acne in the 1960s.) Later he told me he wanted the X-rays so I could see how bad my back is.
"I told him it doesn't make sense to come in when I feel fine. He said I would want to keep coming in if I could see the X-rays. I was furious! I should show him your article, but he would call it heresy. My friends and family have been telling me not to go back. I don't know why I let him brainwash me. I just had to share this because most chiropractors do not think like you do."
The italics are mine because almost every time I get a favorable letter from a DC, they will make a similar comment. And when I wrote the article, I too believed most chiropractors would be very upset. After a decade of feedback, I can report that 100 percent of the communication has been polarized – but only half of the profession was angry. Of the approximately 1,100 letters I got in 2002 and the 5-15 a year I've been getting ever since, 50 percent have been supportive. This is not to say that I haven't had some humdingers from the "dark side," because I have. My favorite negative letter only used two words (starting with the letters "F" and "Y") and then repeated the salute 500 times before signing his name. Thinking of that e-mail still makes me smile.
As for "Lucy," I told her to forward "How to Choose..." to other DCs in her area with the following subject line: "If you agree, I would like to be a new patient." I think she'll be as surprised, as I was, when she learns that many chiropractors do put the patients' health before their own wealth.
Click here for previous articles by G. Douglas Andersen, DC, DACBSP, CCN.