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What to Do If a Chiropractor "Quacks" You
Stephen Barrett, M.D.
Many chiropractors encourage people to have treatment they
don't need. Often this is done by telling them they have spinal
problems ("subluxations") that, if untreated will cause
great difficulties. Many chiropractors try to persuade every person
they see—and sometimes whole families—to have weekly or
monthly examinations and spinal "adjustments" throughout
life. Chiropractors who offer "free" or "discounted"
initial evaluations suggest this to nearly everyone they evaluate.
Many chiropractors suggest that after patients feel better, they
should have prolonged "maintenance care" to prevent
future problems. No program of this type has ever been shown to
provide any health benefit. In fact, as far as I know, chiropractic
has never conducted a study to test its widespread belief that
"maintenance care" is useful.
Some chiropractors offer "discounts" to people who
sign a contract agreeing to have many "adjustments"
over a period of 3 months, 6 months, or a year. Many people who
decide to stop before the agreed-upon time period ends find that
the chiropractor bills them for services they no longer want or
refuses to issue a refund for unused visits. If this happens to
you, I suggest that you take the following steps:
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This page was revised on June 26, 2002.
- Be aware that there is no legitimate way a chiropractor can
determine months in advance how many adjustments you will need
for any problem. Thus the entire concept of selling multiple
visits is improper. Do not blame yourself for having fallen victim
to such a scheme.
- Politely but firmly ask for the contract to be canceled and
payment for unused visits be refunded.
- If the chiropractor refuses to do this, the first step you
should take is to request a copy of your records. Doing this
is important so that the chiropractor cannot change them to conceal
what has taken place. In most states, patients have a legal right
to obtain a copy of their records.
- Once you have your records, try to persuade the chiropractor
that it is in his or her interest to do what you request because
if the matter is not settled amicably, you intend to complain
to the state attorney general and the state licensing board.
If you believe you have been misled, ask for a full refund. Some
people fear that if they complain, they might face legal retaliation
from the chiropractor. This fear is not justified, however, because
complaints to government agencies are "privileged"
and provide no legitimate basis for a lawsuit.
- Some chiropractors (or their staff) warn that if you do not
pay, they will turn your account over to a collection agency
and that your credit will be ruined. Pay no attention to such
threats. Unpaid chiropractic bills will not affect anyone's credit
rating. There is no way a credit agency can force you to pay.
If one contacts you, explain why you believe that the service
was improper and then tell them to stop contacting you because
you do not intend to pay.
- Although collection agencies can't force anyone to pay, it
is possible for a chiropractor to file suit in an attempt to
collect. Whether this is practical depends on the amount involved,
the cost of suing, and the relevant state laws. If a suit is
threatened or filed and the amount is significant, it would be
wise to consult an attorney.
- If you have paid by credit card, you have a right to protest
the payment and ask the credit card company to use its "chargeback"
procedure to return what you paid. Your credit card statement
will describe how to do this. There is usually a 60-day limit,
but companies occasionally go beyond that in cases of that involve
- To complain to the licensing
board, prepare three copies. Send one to the agency that
licenses chiropractors in your state. Indicate that a copy has
been sent to the state
attorney general so that the board knows that an outside
agency is aware of the complaint. Send the second copy to the
state attorney general, but don't indicate that a copy has been
sent to the licensing board. (If you do, the attorney general's
office might ignore it.) Send the third copy to Quackwatch, P.O.
Box 1747, Allentown, PA 18105 and be sure to include your e-mail
- Feel free to contact
me by e-mail if you need further help.