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January 4, 2013 at 12:20 PMComments: 3 Faves: 0

Do MD's and Chiropractors Get Along?

By Jeffrey VanWingen M.D. More Blogs by This Author

A patient was recently in to see me for the third time in recent weeks for his low back pain. We had previously tried antiinflammatory medications, muscle relaxers, pain medications, stretching, and some physical therapy, but nothing was working. I suggested that he see a chiropractor. "I thought you doctors hated chiropractors," he replied. I get this all the time. As such, I thought I would put some words down to set the record straight.

I see a lot of mechanical problems in my patients - most primary care doctors do. By the term, mechanical problem, I lump together back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, and a whole host of other "body breaking down" types of maladies. When I see people, I treat them to the best of my abilities. In as much, I recognize my inabilities - this is only logical. Failing to look outside of my capabilities would only be a disservice to my patients. So why is this such a problem in medicine?

New School vs. Old School

Looking back into the history of medicine, things were pretty much in shambles during the 1800's. It was said in a popular commentary of the time by Oliver Wendell Holmes that, "If all of medicine were to sink to the bottom of the sea, it would be better for humanity and all the worse for the fishes." Indeed, medicine often did more harm than good. Leaching and cathartics were commonplace. "Snake oil" and other cure-alls were touted to fix just about anything. There was a desperate need for change during this time and an improvement in standard medical therapy emerged, but so did other forms of medicine such as, Chiropractic Medicine, Homeopathy, and Osteopathy, to name a few. Each movement worked toward helping people with their medical needs and making the patient feel better. Today, these different branches of medicine are still practiced. While some competition may exist, they tend to serve more as adjuncts in an "a la carte" healthcare consumerist society.

When it comes to my relationship with chiropractic care specifically, I often find myself augmenting what the chiropractic care is doing, in a cooperative relationship. While it is true that "too many cooks in the kitchen" can be problematic and even harmful, a team with different viewpoints can enhance the healthcare of an individual. One of the big factors differentiating the two scenarios is the amount of productive communication between the healthcare professionals co-managing a patient.

Good Ones and Bad Ones

With any field there are stand-outs. In my field of medicine, there are definitely good doctors and bad doctors. This, as in any art, may even be up for interpretation and opinion as to who is good and who is not. The same is true for chiropractors. To generalize is just ignorant and judgmental. In my opinion, the compass of delineating the good from the not so good seems to hinge on outcomes, just as it does in my field. It also involves the scope of practice, communication, and goals in therapy. 

A healthcare professional needs to mind their boundaries of expertise. For instance, I am a doctor, but I would not perform brain surgery because this is out of the realm of my abilities. Pretending that I can would obviously be poor care. Communication is also important. Educating, sharing findings, and vocalizing expectations are vital to excellent care. Communicating with other treating health professionals is also important. Admittedly, this is what challenges us healthcare providers the most. Lastly, keeping appropriate goals in therapy are important. I love applying the phrase to medicine that, "if you give a man a fish he will eat for a day and if you teach a man to fish he will eat for a lifetime." I believe that the good chiropractors (and other healthcare providers) serve their patients best when education, prevention, and self-care (such as stretching and strengthening) are a consistent part of the treatment regimen. These things seem more enduring than a quick fix that is only short-lived.

Common Ground

Do doctors get along with chiropractors? The short, summing-it-up answer to the question is yes - at least I do. It is important to stand on the common ground that we healthcare providers do share.  We may have different viewpoints but we are in the privileged business of helping people with health problems. This is a challenging calling, and, hopefully, all of us in it are humble enough to know that we do not possess everything that our patients need. Ending on a quote the Beatles, "We'll get by with a little help from our friends."

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  • Love it! But you are right - sometimes the chiropractor is the right choice.

    And then there is the $$ issue - a good reason chiropractors are over looked for their services is because of money (out of pocket) versus insurance coverage. Insurance companies do not cover appointments for chiropractors like they do for medical doctors!

  • Some insurances do cover Chiropractic appointments (Medicare is a big one) or at least part of an appointmentand also some cover massage too...but same can be said for Psychology appointments too..

  • Some insurances do cover Chiropractic appointments (Medicare is a big one) or at least part of an appointmentand also some cover massage too...but same can be said for Psychology appointments too..

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