What to Do If a Chiropractor “Quacks” You

Stephen Barrett, M.D.
June 26, 2002

Many chiropractors encourage people to have treatment they don’t need. Often this is done by telling them they have spinal problems (“subluxations”) that, if untreated will cause great difficulties. Many chiropractors try to persuade every person they see—and sometimes whole families—to have weekly or monthly examinations and spinal “adjustments” throughout life. Chiropractors who offer “free” or “discounted” initial evaluations suggest this to nearly everyone they evaluate. Many chiropractors suggest that after patients feel better, they should have prolonged “maintenance care” to prevent future problems. No program of this type has ever been shown to provide any health benefit. In fact, as far as I know, chiropractic has never conducted a study to test its widespread belief that “maintenance care” is useful.

Some chiropractors offer “discounts” to people who sign a contract agreeing to have many “adjustments” over a period of 3 months, 6 months, or a year. Many people who decide to stop before the agreed-upon time period ends find that the chiropractor bills them for services they no longer want or refuses to issue a refund for unused visits. If this happens to you, I suggest that you take the following steps:

  • Be aware that there is no legitimate way a chiropractor can determine months in advance how many adjustments you will need for any problem. Thus the entire concept of selling multiple visits is improper. Do not blame yourself for having fallen victim to such a scheme.
  • Politely but firmly ask for the contract to be canceled and payment for unused visits be refunded.
  • If the chiropractor refuses to do this, the first step you should take is to request a copy of your records. Doing this is important so that the chiropractor cannot change them to conceal what has taken place. In most states, patients have a legal right to obtain a copy of their records.
  • Once you have your records, try to persuade the chiropractor that it is in his or her interest to do what you request because if the matter is not settled amicably, you intend to complain to the state attorney general and the state licensing board. If you believe you have been misled, ask for a full refund. Some people fear that if they complain, they might face legal retaliation from the chiropractor. This fear is not justified, however, because complaints to government agencies are “privileged” and provide no legitimate basis for a lawsuit.
  • Some chiropractors (or their staff) warn that if you do not pay, they will turn your account over to a collection agency and that your credit will be ruined. Pay no attention to such threats. Unpaid chiropractic bills will not affect anyone’s credit rating. There is no way a credit agency can force you to pay. If one contacts you, explain why you believe that the service was improper and then tell them to stop contacting you because you do not intend to pay.
  • Although collection agencies can’t force anyone to pay, it is possible for a chiropractor to file suit in an attempt to collect. Whether this is practical depends on the amount involved, the cost of suing, and the relevant state laws. If a suit is threatened or filed and the amount is significant, it would be wise to consult an attorney.
  • If you have paid by credit card, you have a right to protest the payment and ask the credit card company to use its “chargeback” procedure to return what you paid. Your credit card statement will describe how to do this. There is usually a 60-day limit, but companies occasionally go beyond that in cases of that involve fraud.
  • To complain to the licensing board, prepare three copies. Send one to the agency that licenses chiropractors in your state. Indicate that a copy has been sent to the state attorney general so that the board knows that an outside agency is aware of the complaint. Send the second copy to the state attorney general, but don’t indicate that a copy has been sent to the licensing board. (If you do, the attorney general’s office might ignore it.) Send the third copy to Quackwatch, P.O. Box 1747, Allentown, PA 18105 and be sure to include your e-mail address.
  • Feel free to contact me by e-mail if you need further help.

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This page was revised on June 26, 2002.