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Jun 15 2014

Medical Fraud at the Cleveland Clinic

The Cleveland Clinic is widely regarded as one of the best hospitals in the world, but like many hospitals these days it is more than happy to push fraudulent “medicine” for fun and profit on its more ignorant and credulous patients. It has started a Center for Integrative Medicine that pushes all sorts of quackery like reiki, which it defines as:

a form of hands-on, natural healing that uses universal life force energy . . . [a] vital life force energy that flows through all living things. This gentle energy is limitless in abundance and is believed to be a spiritual form of energy. The Reiki practitioner is the conduit between you and the source of the universal life force energy. . . You may experience the energy as sensations such as heat, tingling, or pulsing where the practitioner places her hands on your body, or you may feel these sensations move through your body to other locations. This is the energy flowing into you.

What you should be feeling at this point is not “energy flowing into you” but your lunch flowing out of you. I have no idea how any hospital, especially a world class one like the Cleveland Clinic, can use a phrase like “universal life force energy” without feeling so much shame that they want to throw themselves off a bridge. And the collection of empty catchphrases goes on, as they describe how reiki will “dissolve energy blockages” and “detoxify the body” and “increase the vibrational frequency of the client.” There’s enough bullshit there to fertilize the Gobi desert.

Jann Bellamy at Science Based Medicine asks an interesting question:

Could a medical facility’s selling reiki to the public give rise to an individual or class action lawsuit for fraud? If so, then hospitals and other health care facilities are needlessly subjecting themselves to liability, something they generally go to great strides to avoid.

Homeopathy could serve as a cautionary tale for the hospital industry. Numerous class actions based on fraud, as well as consumer protection laws, have been filed against homeopathic remedy manufacturers in the last several years. (Class actions can aggregate many small claims of financial loss for plaintiffs unlikely to bring individual suits.) To my knowledge, all of these have settled, costing the companies millions of dollars. One manufacturer has decided to opt out of the American and Canadian markets because of liability concerns. Homeopathic products are still very much on the shelves but, then again, homeopathic remedy companies seem fairly shameless. I would think that medical facilities, which trade on their reputations for excellence in patient care, have a lot more to fear from a suit for fraudulent misrepresentation.

I think that’s entirely possible. But where is the federal government in this? Or the medical licensing associations? How does a hospital maintain its legal ability to practice medicine while providing “treatements” that are transparently fraudulent?

22 comments

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  1. 1
    Modusoperandi

    During treatment, do they play “Touch me in the morning”? ‘Cause then has to be real. You don’t mess with the classics.

  2. 2
    Michael Heath

    The page Ed links to has a Contact Us link. I sent them the following message under the Medical Services category:

    Why does the Cleveland Clinic promote quackery like they do here: http://my.clevelandclinic.org/wellness/integrative-medicine/treatments-services/reiki.aspx?

    When do you start offering voodoo? Should we soon expect resident witch doctors?

  3. 3
    John Pieret

    When do you start offering voodoo? Should we soon expect resident witch doctors?

    I think they are already there.

  4. 4
    Modusoperandi

    Michael Heath ” When do you start offering voodoo? Should we soon expect resident witch doctors?”

    “I’m going to write you a prescription for a medical voodoo doll. Stick two pins in it in the morning with breakfast, and two at night with dinner. If you have any adverse reactions, like trouble urinating or demon curses, stop sticking pins in the medical voodoo doll and call us immediately.”

  5. 5
    wordsgood

    It’s happening in Canada too. Drives me crazy.

  6. 6
    subbie

    The problem with charging fraud is that one element of a fraud charge is actual knowledge of the falsity of the claim being made. While I have no doubt that many of the charlatans selling the various forms of snake oil you mention are aware they are making false claims, I’m equally certain that some of them do believe the crap they are dishing. Those people, technically, are not guilty of fraud.

  7. 7
    chisaihana5219

    I wouldn’t mind them offering reiki to terminally ill patients or patients with no detectible illness, since we know that the placebo effect works for some people. If they said it won’t cure you but it might make your more comfortable, that would be okay. Reiki is more like massage therapy than homeopathic medicines that make claims but actually have no medicine in them.

  8. 8
    grumpyoldfart

    The board are probably so far removed from day to day events that they have reached a point where profit potential is the only thing they consider when making decisions. They probably don’t even know what Reiki is, but the bookkeepers said it was a nice little earner so they said, “OK, let’s have some Reiki.”

  9. 9
    Joseph Yaroch

    It obviously works: Just reading about it increases my vibrational frequency. Makes me want to detoxify my body on their front lawn. See.

  10. 10
    Marcus Ranum

    Would a letter-writing campaign to the AMA work?

  11. 11
    DaveL

    Well, they quite clearly said it was a form of spiritual energy.

    Which, as we all know, means imaginary.

  12. 12
    Marcus Ranum

    Well, they quite clearly said it was a form of spiritual energy.

    Pay ‘em in spiritual money.

  13. 13
    Modusoperandi

    To be fair, the margins are pretty sweet.

  14. 14
    Francisco Bacopa

    Reiki and other forms of therapeutic touch are so easy to debunk that an eleven year old can get published in a peer reviewed journal for doing it.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emily_Rosa

  15. 15
    Ellie

    The website says, “Reiki allows you to accomplish healing of yourself…” Then why do I need to spend my money at the Cleveland Clinic?

  16. 16
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    Their member hospitals have had that crap for years. The problem with the Clinic, like so many other “hospitals”, is that they are actually mega-conglomerates of hospitals and they keep taking over more. And they treat healthcare like any other large corp treats its product: They want to vary it and push a lot of garbage to try and get more dollars out of more people.

    Overall, the Clinic’s attitude and their little agendas piss me off and I don’t like having anything to do with them. Unfortunately, they own the local hospital, which I thought sucked most of the time before it became part of the Clinic system, but now it contains elements of the suckage of both.

  17. 17
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    @ Subbie

    They are a MacLargeHuge institution filled with a preponderance of people who know it is utter bullshit.

  18. 18
    lofgren

    I think we make a mistake saying that these hospitals are “pushing” this on patients. The fact is patients demand it. Obviously you would expect ACTUAL DOCTORS to be held to a higher standard, being as they went to school for this shit and all, but they also have to make ends meet and satisfy customers because that’s the nature of the business.

    Another thing is that Reiki does work, in a sense. Patients heal much better and faster when visitors spend time with them and give them good quality attention. The problem is that you can’t have a nurse just sit with a patient and talk to them for an hour. That’s not something the patient would be willing to pay for and it’s not something you can bill them for anyway. But if you give them a nice Reiki massage while you sit and chat, suddenly you can put it on the tab.

    This really is another example of the placebo problem. Some doctors think it’s unethical to give placebos because you have to be honest with your patients. Other doctors think it’s unethical NOT to give placebos, because placebos do indeed help and it would be wrong to not do everything you can to help, even if means lying. Personally my sympathies lie very strongly with the former, but that doesn’t mean I can discount the arguments of the latter entirely.

  19. 19
    williamhumenansky

    Is this where all the priest and preachers go after getting canned for molesting kids? Should be an easy sell for them after pitching woo forever, eternity, always…Perhaps just a different kinds of baptism? They have spiritual experience and few, if any, ethics.

  20. 20
    cry4turtles

    The “r” in reiki stands for RIP OFF!!

  21. 21
    freehand

    But where is the federal government in this?
    .
    They’re down at the congressional lobbying center, collecting their supplementary paychecks, where they also meet lobbyists to discuss denying global warming; rejecting evolutionary science; rewriting history books, dismantling public eduction; eviscerating pollution controls; and removing federal oversight on fracking, food supplements, private gun sales, church political activities, etc.

  22. 22
    eoraptor

    “…universal life force energy . . .”

    Midichlorians?

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