Doctors of conventional medicine have not always seen eye-to-eye with chiropractors. In fact, the American Medical Association (AMA) once famously forbade its licensed physicians to have any contact with chiropractors. In 1976, chiropractors won an antitrust lawsuit in which a Federal judge ruled that the AMA had conspired “to contain and eliminate the chiropractic profession.” Things have come a long way since then. While some medical doctors are still reticent to refer their patients to chiropractors, the numbers are encouraging. A 2002 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that 65% of the doctors surveyed referred their patients to chiropractors. And the proven benefits of chiropractic have become more widely known since then.
In contrast, 98% of chiropractors have referred patients to a medical doctor when they felt it was necessary. Chiropractors are highly aware of the types of conditions that chiropractic can treat and will not hesitate to refer patients to a medical doctor in cases where the patient’s condition goes beyond a chiropractor’s scope of practice. However, there are also a number of conditions that regularly bring patients into hospital emergency rooms but that could easily and effectively be treated by chiropractors in a more appropriate setting. This would certainly produce better patient outcomes in most cases while at the same time freeing up overworked hospital staff to treat patients with more serious medical emergencies.
For example, a patient may show up in the ER suffering from severe low back pain. In most cases, the patient will be prescribed pain killers and/or muscle relaxants and then sent home. However, these drugs can only be taken for a short period of time and eventually the patient is likely to return to the hospital with the same problem. If a chiropractor is on staff, he or she can perform a chiropractic adjustment that can alleviate pain and provide a more long-term, drug-free solution to the problem that can help lift the burden from both doctors and hospital support staff in terms of time and money spent. Studies have consistently shown that chiropractic care is more effective in the treatment of back pain than conventional medical treatment.
There are several other situations where having chiropractors on staff at hospitals is already providing real benefits to patients. The initial treatment of victims of minor car accidents (where whiplash is often a concern) is one such scenario. The treatment of pregnant women who are experiencing low back pain and need drug-free relief is a second. Physical rehabilitation is a third. Better for patients and better for hospitals.
Being in a hospital setting can also help make chiropractors themselves more effective in a couple of important ways. Having access to advanced diagnostic testing facilities onsite is one way. Being able to work closely with other specialists as part of a broader healthcare team is another.
Unfortunately, relatively few hospitals currently have chiropractors working on staff. The US government has recognized the advantages of offering chiropractic care to veterans and has put them on staff in many VA hospitals. Many chiropractors are also practicing in military hospitals and clinics as part of the Chiropractic Health Care Program available to all military personnel on active duty. By bringing chiropractic physicians into the hospital environment, everyone benefits-patients, hospitals and chiropractors.
Chiropractic care can also be used to help patients who are being treated for cancer and whose musculoskeletal systems are stressed due to radiation and chemotherapy treatments. The Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) offer chiropractic services to their patients. Dr. James Rosenberg, national director of chiropractic care at CTCA, says, “Overall patient health improves with the noninvasive, non-drug approach of chiropractic care. Doctors of chiropractic are able to reduce stress to the nervous system by providing conservative care to musculoskeletal dysfunctions, which helps to improve the patient’s healing ability and functionality.”
With the Affordable Care Act’s twin goals of expanding healthcare coverage AND reducing costs, efficiency and coordination matter more than ever. So does making sure patients have access to the most appropriate type of care at the right time and in the right environment. Adding chiropractors to the hospital’s medical team can help make these things happen.