How Well Do You Know Your Massage Therapist?
Besides the obvious horrors the recent arrest of Radovan Karadzic dredged up, it was really freaky to find out that the Butcher of Bosnia, murderer of a reported 8,000 men and boys, has apparently for years been practicing complementary medicine in Belgrade under the pseudonym Dragan Dabic.
Among the many questions that popped into my mind: How well do I really know my massage therapist?
If, in fact, I had a massage therapist, I'm pretty sure she would have committed no crimes, let alone the kind of ghastly atrocities attributed to Karadzic. But there are tons of people practicing alternative and complementary medicine in the United States. How do we know if they're all on the up-and-up?
The short answer? We don't.
Whereas physicians practicing traditional Western medicine have to be trained and licensed and are subject to oversight by state medical boards, complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practitioners in many fields of expertise can pretty much just hang out a shingle and start working with patients. Nor is there any overarching regulatory body with which to check a CAM practitioner's record and credentials.
None of this is to suggest that CAM practitioners are inherently less likely to be good citizens than traditional MDs; nor am I suggesting that every credentialed MD is a saint. All I'm saying is that, in light of the lack of comprehensive oversight, entering into a relationship with a CAM practitioner may warrant an extra dose of diligence.
Michael H. Cohen, Assistant Professor of Health Law and Policy at the Harvard School of Public Health and co-author of this article about CAM credentials, told me yesterday that "The world is basically divided into two groups: MDs and Everyone Else." The latter category, he explained, includes allied health professionals -- such as occupational therapists and physical therapists -- and CAM practitioners. The realm of CAM is further divided between licensed and unlicensed practitioners.
Checking a licensed CAM practitioner's credentials and performance is similar to checking an MD's, Cohen says. Your state regulatory board, like a state medical board, likely has a Web site on which you can look up a practitioner's name to see whether he has an active license and whether disciplinary action's been taken against him. Some will include a database listing malpractice claims, too.
An unlicensed practitioner may still be registered with the state; checking that listing might provide useful information. If your practitioner claims to be "certified," find out what organization issued the certification and, if possible, check with that organization.
Requirements for licensure vary by type of CAM practice and by state. For some CAM therapies, licensure is required in some states and not in others. For other therapies, there are no formal requirements for practice. You may want to contact a nearby hospital, medical school, health licensing authority, or state medical board for CAM credential and license requirements in your state.
The Directory of Health Organizations lists professional organizations that outline standards of practice for certain CAM therapies and may offer information about the type of training required for a license. Search for the therapy or type of practitioner to find organizations that may be able to assist you.
As an aside, having written recently about Facebook, I was intrigued to find this list of Facebook accounts for people named Dragan Dabic. I haven't mustered the nerve to Friend any of them.
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