A lack of understanding about healthcare, seeking treatment plans on the internet and “hysteria” over drug companies is driving Australians to “dangerous” alternative therapies, a senior doctor believes.
Dr Morton a Sydney GP since 1976, has been an AMA Federal Councillor since 2006 and served as AMA NSW President from 2008-2010. He is entering his third term as Chair of the AMA Council of General Practice. Dr Morton has seen a rise in the number of Australians using natural therapies and said there was growing alarm about it throughout the medical community.
Recently a Sydney naturopath was charged with causing grievous bodily harm to an eight-month-old boy – after she allegedly told the boy’s mother to cease medical and dermatological treatments. The eight-month-old boy was suffering from eczema when his mother consulted the naturopath in April for advice about alternative health treatments for her son, police said. Police will allege Marilyn Bodnar, 59, who is also a registered nurse and a midwife, advised the child’s mother to stop all medical and dermatological treatments for the child.
That arrest follows other shocking examples including the death of seven-year-old Aidan Fenton earlier this year – after he received controversial “smacking therapy” to treat his diabetes. Aidan Fenton was taking part in an $1800 week-long alternative Chinese medicine workshop when he died. Hongchi Xiao, who hosted seminars at the workshop, has since left the country.
“The health literacy in the community is not good … Some studies have shown it to be under 50 per cent, but that varies obviously according to education standards.”
Dr Morton said it was important people took care when they googled symptoms and treatment plans.
“We have to make sure that people, if they are googling and looking on the internet, filter it properly. They need to look at where the information is coming from and they don’t rely on anecdotal entries from other people,” he said.
“Part of that is the availability of information on the internet and the hysteria about pharmaceutical companies,” Dr Morton said.
He said drugs and treatments in Australia went through some of the most rigorous testing in the world, but still people were deeply suspicious.
That suspicion was sending them straight into alternative therapy. Dr Morton said those treatments could be fine when used in conjunction with, but not instead of, traditional medicine.
“It also applies to people with cancer who seek alternative therapies that do absolutely nothing,” he said.
People were seeking alternative therapy for a whole range of ailments, from back pain to irritable bowel syndrome.
“They are spending millions on alternative therapies with no evidence [of them] working … When the money could be best spent in other areas.”
Whilst patient education and active participation in treatment are important – general information provided online is not a substitute for thorough assessment by a qualified medical professional.
Alternative health therapies are often not tested and regulated in the same way as treatment administered by a qualified medical practitioner. Patients are cautioned against seeking unqualified advice and taking unregulated substances offered as treatment. We encourage people to seek care from qualified, trained medical experts and take evidenced based medical treatment.