Technique Update: Australian Study Examines Complaints Against Chiropractors

Technique Update: Australian Study Examines Complaints Against Chiropractors

by Dr. David Graber, ANJC Council on Technique & Clinical Excellence Chair

A University of Melbourne retrospective cohort study of chiropractors, osteopaths and physiotherapists in Australia found that chiropractors attracted many more performance and conduct complaints, especially from their peers.

The overall complaint rate for the three professions was:

  • Overall : 8 complaints for every 1,000 practitioners per year
  • Chiropractors: 29 for every 1000 per year
  • Osteopaths: 10 for every 1000 per year
  • Physiotherapists: 5 for every 1000 per year

Ninety-two percent of chiropractors were not subject to any complaints during the study period, and 1.3 percent of chiropractors accounted for more than a third (36 percent) of chiropractor complaints.

Interestingly, the source of complaints coming from patients or their relatives was less for chiropractors (chiropractors: 47.5 percent, osteopaths: 60.5 percent vs. physiotherapists: 59.8 percent), and there were more complaints about chiropractors from fellow chiropractors (chiropractors: 16.9 percent vs. physiotherapists: 10.4 percent). The study’s authors hypothesize that the “higher proportion of chiropractic complaints from fellow health practitioners may reflect less inter-professional integration of the profession, anti-competitive behavior by other practitioners, or the diversity of practice perspectives within the chiropractic professions.”

Across all three professions, practitioners aged 66 or older had higher rates of complaint compared to those aged 35 years and younger.

The study analyzed formal complaints about all registered chiropractors, osteopaths and physiotherapists in Australia lodged with health regulators from 2011 to 2016 as part of a broader research partnership with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). Internationally, it is believed to be the first nationwide study comparing complaints data from these three professions, and was undertaken to explore areas of regulatory risk.

During the study period, 5450 chiropractors, 2241 osteopaths, and 31534 physiotherapists registered to practice in Australia. In total, 1139 complaints were lodged across the professions.

Among complaint types for chiropractors, performance issues (treatment, diagnosis, procedures, communication, etc.) accounted for 29 percent, professional conduct (advertising, fees, sexual boundaries, honesty, etc.) accounted for 68 percent, and health issues for 3 percent.

For more information:  Anna T. Ryan et al. Complaints about chiropractors, osteopaths, and physiotherapists: a retrospective cohort study of health, performance, and conduct concerns, Chiropractic & Manual Therapies (2018), click here: DOI: 10.1186/s12998-018-0180-4

Originally published online in: ANJC The Back Channel:

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