In the span of a few days, the anti-vaccine screed of a Cleveland Clinic doctor prompted a social media firestorm, an apparent retraction from the physician, and promises of disciplinary action by administrators of his prestigious hospital system.
But those reactions will not entirely contain the damage caused by the rant, which has already been picked up by anti-vaccine organizations1, or address a more fundamental question:
Why do hospitals that espouse evidence-based medical care operate alternative medicine institutes that offer treatments with little foundation in science?
This is exactly what has happened to pain care when the CDC promoted “integrated care”, which is actually a collection of unproven alternative medicine treatments, in its 2016 Opioid Prescribing Guideline.
This is the same unproven and unscientific medicine that was furiously disparaged and ridiculed by doctors for decades until it suddenly became the government’s preferred pain treatment, simply by the virtue of being non-opioid, not because it is particularly effective.
While I know that such remedies can sometimes be almost miraculously helpful (hardly any itch from poison ivy after taking homeopathic pills), only some remedies work for some people some of the time.
Over a couple of decades, I tried various alternative treatments for my pain (before the CDC forced it on us) but found no success, so my real-world experience with alternative medicine was not positive, despite the CDC’s assurances that these treatments are “better” than opioids.
The anti-vaccine column that triggered the weekend’s outcry2 was written by Dr. Daniel Neides, director and CEO of the Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute, which advertises homeopathic remedies3 and alternative weight loss and pain management4 treatments with little basis in science.
The clinic, which strongly disavowed Neides’s statements, is far from alone among major US medical centers in operating a wellness institute.
Seeking to broaden their appeal and increase revenue, a flurry of US hospitals have opened alternative and complementary medicine centers in recent years.
Of course, it’s all about profit again. There’s no escaping this ruthless chain of destructive corporate behavior as long as pure unfettered capitalism rules our healthcare.
Top hospitals and academic medical centers, including the Mayo Clinic, University of California, San Francisco, the University of Iowa, and Duke University Medical Center, participate in what has become a multibillion-dollar industry.
Dr. Michael S. Sinha, a physician-attorney and research fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said such institutes can be lucrative because of high patient demand for their services.
Many patients are willing to pay out of pocket for services such as acupuncture, cupping, moxibustion, and reiki. Many of the services offered by such institutes can be billed to insurance companies, even if not supported by rigorous clinical studies.
“Damage to reputation can be significant, as the Cleveland Clinic fallout demonstrates,” Sinha said.
Neides issued an apology9 and apparent retraction on Sunday, saying in a statement released by the Cleveland Clinic:
“I fully support vaccinations and my concern was meant to be positive around the safety of them.”
What the heck does that garbled sentence even mean?
He hasn’t always promoted anti-vaccination ideas.
Two years ago, around the time he began contributing to Cleveland.com, he wrote, “Having survived the nightmare of the 2009 flu epidemic, you can bet I am the first in line with my sleeve rolled up. I hope many of you will take advantage of the many flu vaccine clinics that Cleveland Clinic has to offer. With a nod to Benjamin Franklin, ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’”
His articles for Cleveland.com included the Cleveland Clinic’s official logo next to his name, but the hospital said that it does not approve of that use of its logo.
Cleveland.com removed his column from its site on Sunday, after the Cleveland Clinic asked it to do so on Neides’s behalf, a spokeswoman for the health system said. But it was re-posted Sunday evening8.
His statements about vaccines prompted some in the medical community to question why Neides was allowed to work as a medical educator.
This is exactly the same circumstances we have with opioids and all the anti-opioid folks out there.
Why are “experts” with a commitment to a “drug-free America” making policy for these opioid drugs?
He has won a number of awards for his role in shaping curricula and teaching at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine, where he worked as the associate director of clinical education. Clinic spokeswoman Eileen Sheil said by email that Neides’s medical education role “ended a few years ago.”
“With the wellness movement more generally, what I find troubling is how much of a business it can be,” he told STAT. “If you look for instance at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute website, they have a shop where you can purchase a homeopathic cleansing regimen of some sort.
That’s clear pseudoscience.
We don’t believe in homeopathy. It bothers me that products are being sold in that fashion to patients.”
He added that this is symptomatic of an entrepreneurial model instead of a professional one: “We see time and time again how the corporatization of medicine produces unfortunate results, when health care becomes a commodity…
When healthcare becomes a commodity, only the rich can afford it. Commodity refers to a “thing”, not a person, and healthcare is NOT a purchase of choice, so this becomes a moral issue that cannot be solved by capitalism’s relentless prowl for profits.
Considering the price, very. very few can afford the exorbitant fees that are set to distribute profits among multiple third-party players that have inserted themselves between us and our medical care.
Doctors in integrative medicine institutes sometimes “cross the line into this fuzzy, metaphysical thinking, which is what [Neides] did.”
He said Neides displayed a total lack of knowledge about the preservatives and activating agents used in vaccines, and did not even properly distinguish between them in his column. “It’s the usual bull[expletive],” he said, “which is to say that everything with a chemical name is bad for you.”
Plenty of physicians in the integrative medicine community disagree vehemently with Neides’ questionable views on vaccines.
Dr. Benjamin Mazer, a resident physician in pathology at Yale New Haven Hospital, sees Neides’s statements on vaccines as an example of a dangerous trend in which doctors promote conspiracy theories that try to undermine proven practices.
Here is another article pointing out how “alternative medicine” is taking over our medical system:
For reasons only they know, the clinic employs a crackpot named Daniel Neides. Worse still, he is a physician. Even worse is that he is given a forum to share his supernaturally inaccurate thoughts with the public.
He did just this in a new opinion piece called “Make 2017 the year to avoid toxins (good luck) and master your domain: Words on Wellness.”