A bone to pick with chiropractors

Eight complaints have been lodged with the Consumers Association of Singapore over chiropractic-related services so far this year.
Eight complaints have been lodged with the Consumers Association of Singapore over chiropractic-related services so far this year.PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN

Case receives more complaints, generally about treatment being ineffective or causing injury

A cold call was all it took to convince Mr Eric Goh, 66, to make his way to a chiropractic clinic in Novena for a free health check last year. Within two visits, the chiropractor claimed Mr Goh's X-ray showed he had a 1.5-degree spinal curvature which needed immediate treatment.

He signed up for a $400 package of six sessions. During the second session, staff at the clinic told him that his condition required a longer period of treatment and he was persuaded to take up another $1,500 year-long package on top of the first.

On the third session, he claimed he ended up sustaining a side injury during the treatment.

Having lost confidence in the procedure, he wanted a refund for the unused sessions.

"The pain lasted a month and the X-rays showed there was trauma but they refused to give a refund and told me to exchange the sessions for other services that they also offer, like massage," said Mr Goh, a clothing retailer.

  • 8

    Number of complaints so far this year. There were nine last year.

    7

    Total number of complaints for the entire three-year period from 2012 to 2014.

Mr Goh is among a growing number of people who have lodged complaints with the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) over chiropractic-related services.

There are eight complaints so far this year and there were nine last year. In comparison, there were a total of seven complaints for the three-year period from 2012 to 2014.

"The increase in the number of complaints for such services may be due to the greater interest of consumers in complementary and alternative forms of medicine such as chiropractic care and traditional Chinese medicine that can be used to supplement their health treatments," said a Case spokesman.

Chiropractic care is concerned mainly with the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disorders of the neuromusculoskeletal system, and there is an emphasis on manual techniques such as joint adjustment or neck manipulation.

Chiropractors - who are not registered medical practitioners - are not regulated.

Checks with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority last week found more than 80 chiropractic-related businesses registered in Singapore.

These businesses can be found in shophouses in the heartland, within shopping malls as well as in medical or health hubs in town.

There are four such clinics at Novena Specialist Centre, for instance, and three at 111 Somerset building, which houses two storeys of medical suites and office units.

Dr Michael Loh, 59, a management consultant, said he was surprised to see a chiropractic pop-up "clinic" offering free spinal scans to shoppers at a supermarket earlier this year. Dr Loh is not a medical doctor.

"These 'scans' are done on the spot by casually dressed staff trying to get shoppers to sign up for packages. How can a cursory 'scan' enable anyone to determine how many visits are necessary for treatment to be effective?" he said.

Case said the complaints are generally about unsatisfactory services, such as the treatment being ineffective or resulting in injury. Consumers who had their cases resolved with Case's help had their contracts terminated and money for unused sessions refunded.

The Chiropractic Association of Singapore, which "self-regulates" its 21 members with a code of ethics and practice, said the sale of large packages of prepaid care is prohibited under its rules. The 21 members are individuals and there is a disclaimer on the association's website that only individual chiropractors need to agree to its rules.

The rules do not govern the clinic in which they practise.

Dr Ashley Liew, from Family Health Chiropractic Clinic, said he charges customers only on a per visit basis. A typical visit can cost between $80 and $140.

"We are a form of healthcare service, not massage or spa providers. It is hard to stipulate how many sessions a customer may need from the first visit. You don't see your dentist or family doctor dishing out packages," said Dr Liew, who is also a marathon runner.

He said he decided to study chiropractic and join the field after being impressed by its benefits.

"It enhanced my athletic performance and kept me injury-free," added Dr Liew, who is gunning to compete in the 2020 Olympics.

Concern over the mass selling of packages has not stopped clinics such as The Rehab Physio Practice situated at Delfi Orchard, which offers two sessions of "chiropractic adjustment" for just $22 and four sessions for $42 on coupon site Groupon over the past year.

The Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (Asas) said it received a complaint last year about a chiropractic provider circulating misleading claims about its treatment - such as having a high success rate in relieving pain and accelerating healing without any side effects - via e-mail.

"As the provider was unable to substantiate the claims when requested by Asas, they ceased the advertisement," said Professor Tan Sze Wee, chairman of Asas.

Said Mr Goh: "I have lost my confidence in such services and will go to a hospital instead for medical check-ups or treatment if I have any serious aches or pain next time."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 18, 2016, with the headline 'A bone to pick with chiropractors'. Print Edition | Subscribe