Backsliding on Chiropractic

Flurry of raids are reminder of unresolved status.

In recent weeks, local health department inspectors looking for violations conducted searches of the offices of six doctors of chiropractic in three Taiwan cities. Although it is not yet clear whether any of the cases will result in prosecutions, the incidents are a reminder of the precarious legal status of the chiropractic professionals providing their services in Taiwan.

Due in large part to protectionist objections raised by the medical community, Taiwan remains one of the few countries in the world that has not formally recognized the legitimacy of the chiropractic profession. Those primarily affected are Taiwanese who received their extensive training and licenses abroad, mainly in the U.S., before returning to a state of limbo in their home country.  

The recent spate of searches harkens back to the period well over a decade ago when chiropractors in Taiwan were subject to frequent raids and other harassment. But the situation began to improve after the Taiwan Chiropractic Doctors Society (TCDS), a member of AmCham Taipei, annually prepared position papers in the Chamber’s Taiwan White Paper explaining the potential value of the profession for healthcare in Taiwan.

An understanding with the authorities appeared to be reached in 2006 when the Department of Health (the precursor to today’s Ministry of Health and Welfare) issued a document confirming that foreign-accredited chiropractors would be allowed to practice as “back soothers” as long as they refrained from making any therapeutic claims or engaging in medical advertising. That solution, though an affront to the chiropractors’ professional dignity, at least relieved them of the sense that they were operating under constant threat of suppression. 

What then led to this summer’s renewed pressures on chiropractic offices? The trigger seems to be discovery by the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) that a Taiwanese group was selling fake ACA certificates in Taiwan and China. The Association posted a fraud-alert video on its website, which TCDS translated into Chinese and publicized further. Immediately the local fraudsters took the advertising down from their website.

It was likely no coincidence that local health departments at that point began to receive citizen complaints that individual chiropractors were breaking the law through improper advertising or practicing medicine without a license. Once they receive a complaint, the health authorities are obliged to investigate.

(Some of the investigating, however, seemed over-zealous. In one raid, a team of six inspectors spent three hours in the office, going through every cabinet drawer and even the refrigerator looking for evidence. Other chiropractors were instructed to alter the wording on their business cards – deleting reference to a U.S. license – or signboards). 

Even if these cases end with no charges being brought, they demonstrate the need to resolve the problem of according full legitimacy to chiropractic once and for all. As Taiwan approaches the status of being a “super-aged society,” it is in Taiwan’s interest to encourage a profession that can help ease some of the aches and pains of old age without the expense of medication or surgery.

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