Health reports misleadSeveral times in recent years, The Forum has featured reports about area residents who have sought alternative or experimental treatments for serious medical conditions.
By: Sheri McMahon, Fargo
Several times in recent years, The Forum has featured reports about area residents who have sought alternative or experimental treatments for serious medical conditions. The Feb. 7 Forum had two reports – one about the little boy who underwent overseas stem cell treatment, another about an area woman who plans to seek treatment in Texas for a form of muscular dystrophy.
Other reports have covered spinal fusions (done in Germany) and treatment for multiple chemical sensitivity. The second Feb. 7 article quotes the doctor (Donald Rhodes) as saying the treatment is “highly successful” but no medical studies have been performed. He also states that the treatment is under Food and Drug Administration review, with approval expected in three months.
I was curious how a medical treatment might obtain such rapid approval without clinical studies and did spend a few minutes looking online. Here’s my take on the situation: Many devices using electrical stimulation of nerves have been approved and are in use. Devices similar to Dr. Rhodes’ are approved for chronic pain management – and his clinic seems to specialize in pain management. If a device is similar to already-approved devices, it can apparently obtain FDA approval in a 90-day process.
Doctors have latitude to use approved treatments when treating other conditions – FDA governs the marketing of treatments, not the doctor’s clinical decisions. Rhodes’ website indicates he has been exploring the use of electrical stimulation to treat conditions other than chronic pain. He also acknowledges treatment effectiveness is subjective because he does not have the resources to conduct formal clinical research.
Doctors working to expand the use of medicine can walk a fine line. Business, ethics and legal interests mean they must find ways to promote without actually marketing. Some are pioneers; some become hubrists; some become dangerous. My initial impression of South Texas Innovative Medicine is that the clinic is careful to walk that fine line. Patients using their treatments face the difficult decision to spend considerable amounts of money on treatment that has not been clearly established. Sometimes their communities help out as well.
Complicating matters is the fact that the U.S. system of finding and approving medical treatments is not as immune to money and politics as we might wish, and how much research is done into a medical condition depends a lot on how much money is to be made. As the parent of a child with a condition classified as an “orphan disease” – where treatment is borrowed from treatment developed for other, very different, purposes – I certainly appreciate that.
I get the impression The Forum has no clear policy about reporting these stories. In the Feb. 7 paper, for example, The Forum reported only the doctor’s statement about device and treatment status with the FDA. Additional information about what that could possibly mean would have been easy for The Forum to research and provided better service to your readers. A phone call to the FDA could have easily provided that information.