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Public consultation paper: complementary and unconventional medicine and emerging treatments

15 Feb 2019

The Medical Board of Australia (the Board) is now consulting on options to more clearly regulate medical practitioners who provide complementary and unconventional medicine and emerging treatments.

The consultation paper, discussion paper and draft guidelines are published on the current consultations page.

The Board recognises that many medical practitioners and consumers hold diverse and passionate views about these issues. We are consulting on options to best protect patients and minimise the risk of harm to them, without stifling innovation, making a judgement about specific clinical practices or limiting patients’ right to choose their healthcare.

The proposed draft guidelines provide a framework for doctors practising in this area, but do not rule in or out specific complementary and unconventional medicine and emerging treatments. They are designed to be used alongside Good medical practice: a code of conduct for doctors in Australia.

The Board developed the guidelines after analysis of complaints and wider concerns raised with regulators identified a need for additional safeguards to protect patients who seek complementary and unconventional medicine and emerging treatments.

Concerns include patients being offered and/or having treatments:

  • for which the safety and efficacy are not known
  • which may be unnecessary
  • that expose them to serious side-effects, and
  • that may result in delayed access to more effective treatment options.

The draft guidelines aim to prevent harm that may occur directly from the complementary and unconventional medicine or emerging treatments or indirectly, from delays in accessing other treatments. While some treatments may be beneficial, others may have no effect, the benefit may be uncertain, or the effect may be harmful physically, psychologically or financially.

The draft guidelines also address risk to patients from increasingly blurred lines between research and commercial innovation, and conflicts of interest that can emerge when a practitioner has a financial or commercial interest in the product or service being offered.

There is not yet a widely agreed definition of complementary and unconventional medicine and emerging treatments and the Board is consulting on a proposed definition that includes:

‘…any assessment, diagnostic technique or procedure, diagnosis, practice, medicine, therapy or treatment that is not usually considered to be part of conventional medicine, whether used in addition to, or instead of, conventional medicine. This includes unconventional use of approved medical devices and therapies’.

The Board aims to help registered medical practitioners meet their professional obligations by defining good medical practice. The draft guidelines would apply to medical practitioners who offer these services and those whose patients use them.

The part of the draft guidance for doctors whose patients use complementary and unconventional medicine and emerging treatments, aims to support doctors’ discussions with patients about these issues.

The draft guidance for doctors who provide complementary and unconventional medicine and emerging treatments spans knowledge and skills, conflicts of interest, informed consent, assessment and diagnosis, treatment, patient management, advertising, research and advancing knowledge.

The consultation is open until 12 April 2019. More information about the draft guidelines and the consultation process is on the current consultations page.

Please note: This consultation has been extended until 30 June 2019.

Page reviewed 15/02/2019