May 6, 2011
Sanjay Gupta, MD
Val Willingham, CNN Medical Producer
1 CNN Center
Atlanta, GA 30303-2762
RE: Suggestion for a Health Show on Chiropractic & CAM
I would like to share an idea with you, Dr. Gupta, as the preeminent medical spokesman on cable television. I write as a practicing chiropractor and author about an important issue plaguing Americans—back pain.
I do this with trepidation hoping that historical medical bias will not supersede your journalistic objectivity toward my profession or suggestion. Hopefully my letter finds you with an open mind and receptive to a new idea that may become a popular new health show for CNN that will benefit millions of Americans suffering with back pain and who seek natural cures.
You may recall a landmark study by Dr. David Eisenberg from Harvard’s Osher Institute that revealed more Americans made more visits to complementary and alternative (CAM) providers than MDs.  One only has to look at the popularity of Dr. OZ’s show to realize that the country is hungry for sound ideas that work, especially non-drug and non-surgical treatments.
As a neurosurgeon, you understand the enormity of the back pain epidemic in America—a $100 billion industry that affects 90% of adults. As well, you are probably aware of the recent criticism in the media of spine fusions, including two articles in The Wall Street Journal that were among recent articles that you would never have seen just a few years ago:
- “Surgery May Not Be the Answer to an Aching Back,” by Joanne Silberner, NPR, April 6, 2010.
- “Back Surgery May Backfire on Patients in Pain,” by Linda Carroll, MSNBC, Nov. 14, 2010
- “Top Spine Surgeons Reap Royalties, Medicare Bounty,” by John Carreyrou And Tom McGinty, Wall St. Journal, Dec. 20, 2010
- “Doctors Getting Rich Performing Unnecessary Spinal Fusions,” by Michael Phelan, Dec. 30, 2010
- “Highest-Paid U.S. Doctors Get Rich with Fusion Surgery Debunked by Studies” by Peter Waldman and David Armstrong, Bloomberg News, Dec. 30, 2010.
- “Report Investigates Unnecessary Spinal Fusions Performed By Twin Cities Spine Surgeons,” by Laura Miller, beckersorthopedicandspine.com, Dec. 31, 2010
- “Spinal Fusions May Cause More Harm Than Good,” by Terrance Pagel on Jan. 20, 2011
- “Medicare Records Reveal Trail of Troubling Surgeries” by John Carreyrou and Tom McGinty, Wall St. Journal, March 29, 2011
Moreover, in January, 2011, a policy change by the North Carolina Blue Cross Blue Shield shocked the spine care industry when it said it would not pay for spinal fusion if the sole indication is disc degeneration or herniation. This may be the tipping point in the new era of evidence-based healthcare that will spread throughout our nation to reduce costs and improve outcomes.
As an author, my motivation is simply to help bring about informed decision-making to the public by giving them the facts in this evidence-based era to find more cost and clinically-effective methods to treat this epidemic of back pain. Certainly, spine surgery is required in those cases with fractures, cancers, serious pathologies, or those unresponsive to conservative care, but for the vast majority of non-specific axial back pain cases, the current guidelines (Milliman, American Pain Society, and North American Spine Society) suggest spinal manipulation, active rehab, and cognitive therapy as the preferred initial care. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (UK-NICE) study from England also recommends spinal manipulation and acupuncture as the best treatments for low back pain.
My 260-page book, The Medical War Against Chiropractors, is well-researched with 755 footnotes from the leading guidelines and medical studies on spine care (Boden, Deyo, Carragee, Weinstein, to name a few). It is also a compelling and enlightening account of the 100-year struggle of the chiropractic profession from medical persecution to scientific vindication.
Although the historical plight of chiropractors is poorly understood by most people, thanks to comparative studies, new guidelines, and positive patient outcomes, the profession is growing. Indeed, today chiropractic is the third-largest physician-level health profession in the nation, but remains the mystery science profession because of the lack of media coverage. As I call it in my book, it is the untold story from persecution to vindication.
CNN would do the nation a huge service to have a regular series on different approaches such as the different spinal therapies done by chiropractors to help not only with the back pain epidemic, but with other health concerns and alternative treatments, such as acupuncture, homeopathy, naturopathy, to name but a few. There is a treasure trove of possibilities to explore in the wide world of complementary and alternative medicine, a ripe opportunity presently ignored by the mass media.
I hope you have a professional curiosity, fairness as a journalist, and a desire to explore chiropractic and other CAM treatments in this healthcare crisis to enlighten the public. If you would like additional information I would love to speak with you more about these important issues.
JC Smith, MA, DC
 DM Eisenberg, RC Kessler, C Foster, FE Norlock, DR Calkins, TL Delbanco, “Unconventional Medicine In The United States–Prevalence, Costs, And Patterns Of Use,” N Engl J Med 328 (1993):246-252.