Medical Doctors, Unproven Treatments, and Professional Standards

Taking a closer look at how physicans deal with alternative medicine

If there’s one group that you’d expect would take a dim view of physician provision of unproven or ineffective treatments, it’s the regulatory colleges that determine medical standards of practice. And that’s why it’s concerning and surprising the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) has published the following draft policy paper, Non-Allopathic (Non-Conventional) Therapies in Medical Practice. The policy as written is unclear with respect to physician expectations. It also appears to significantly diminish the requirement for physicians to provide medical care and advice based on established scientific standards.

To start, let’s look at the CPSO’s role. From their own description:

Doctors in Ontario have been granted a degree of authority for self-regulation under provincial law. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario is the body that regulates the practice of medicine to protect and serve the public interest. This system of self-regulation is based on the premise that the College must act first and foremost in the interest of the public. All doctors in Ontario must be members of the College in order to practise medicine.

Now let’s take a look at the policy, and its congruence to the CPSO’s role. There’s already been a strong reaction online. Both The Committee for the Advancement of Scientific Skepticism (CASS), as well as  Dr. David Gorski, at the Science-Based Medicine Blog have posted detailed analyses. Each identifies multiple shortcomings in the policy that put the public interest into question. Here are some additional thoughts on the policy itself [PDF]. Continue reading