Every profession has its perceived stereotypes. Some result in a positive reputation, like belief that all accountants are analytical and good with numbers. Others result in low public standing—consider the stereotypes about lawyers and car salesmen, for example.
Today’s students will drive the future of chiropractic. To help the profession expand its ever-widening patient base, it’s important to understand the barriers that prevent patients from seeking chiropractic care. That’s why Palmer College of Chiropractic has partnered with Gallup to produce the first national survey on Americans’ perceptions of chiropractic.
Since the profession’s founding in 1895, doctors of chiropractic have worked to build public trust in chiropractic treatment—not only as a safe alternative to painkillers and surgery, but also as a holistic approach to primary care. Their efforts have paid off: An estimated 33.6 million U.S. adults (14 percent), received chiropractic care last year.
It’s an exciting time to be a part of the chiropractic profession. Nearly seven in 10 American adults believe chiropractors effectively treat neck and back pain, while more than 50 percent have visited a doctor of chiropractic. And more than 25 percent say they would seek chiropractic treatment first for back or neck pain.
Still, the Gallup-Palmer report shows several opportunities for growth. Misconceptions and lack of information about the profession continue to dissuade potential patients from pursuing chiropractic care. To help remove these barriers, students first need to understand the misconceptions that fuel them.
Dispelling Misconceptions About Chiropractic
While trust in chiropractic doctors has become widespread—more than half of U.S. adults view chiropractic positively—a chunk of the population is still uninformed. Thirty-nine percent of adults said they don’t know if most chiropractors are trustworthy, and 28 percent weren’t sure if chiropractors have their patients’ best interests in mind.
What these respondents don’t realize is that doctors of chiropractic adhere to a philosophy that promotes optimal healing for every patient by working with the body’s natural healing abilities. Doctors of chiropractic dedicate their careers to improving people’s health and quality of life while avoiding drugs or surgery. The proof, of course, is in their patients’ own perceptions: of Americans who have visited a chiropractor in the last five years, three out of four agree they’re trustworthy, and eight in 10 say their chiropractor has patients’ best interests in mind.
Some Americans are also uniformed about how much training chiropractors receive compared to other doctors. The truth is, doctors of chiropractic are neuro-musculoskeletal doctors who receive training comparable to what medical doctors and doctors of osteopathy receive: 4,620 hours of postgraduate education, compared to 4,800 and 4,665, respectively.
Safety and Efficacy of Chiropractic
While more than half of U.S. adults agree that chiropractic treatment works, some still question its safety and effectiveness. Nearly one in four believe it’s unsafe—primarily those who have never visited a chiropractor—while more than a third say they aren’t sure.
In reality, the risk of serious complication is extremely low (less than one per million) when compared to other common back pain treatments such as opioid pain medications (53.6 per million) and spinal surgery (1,800 per million).
Additionally, chiropractic care has been repeatedly proven effective as a treatment for back pain, neck pain and headaches. One recent clinical study found that 94 percent of chiropractic patients experienced a significant reduction in back pain, while another showed that when paired with standard medical care, chiropractic treatment added a significant boost in pain reduction as well as improved physical function for patients with acute low-back pain. Further studies have shown chiropractic care reduces neck pain in 82 percent of patients and may reduce migraine symptoms by as much as 40 percent.
According to the Gallup-Palmer report, nearly half of all adults who have seen a chiropractor in the last five years say they would go more often if it cost less. Forty-three percent believe chiropractic care is too expensive, and nearly half don’t even know whether their insurance covers it.
Yet when compared to conventional back pain treatments, chiropractic care may actually be less expensive. Resent research shows the cost of care initiated by a chiropractic doctor is 20 to 40 percent lower than care initiated by a medical doctor, and another study found that patients who seek chiropractic treatment for back pain cost the health-care system less per year than those who don’t.
Although these misconceptions about chiropractic care lack basis in reality, they still create barriers that need to be removed. To keep the tide of public perception turning in the right direction, chiropractic students should prepare to educate prospective patients about the realities of chiropractic treatment.
Chancellor Marchiori emphasized that as the data is released and studied, current and future Palmer students will have access to useful information and tools to educate potential patients. “Our students will be better communicators,” he said.
“There are ready solutions to all these areas, but people have misinformation about the profession,” said Palmer College of Chiropractic Chancellor Dennis Marchiori, D.C., Ph.D.. He noted the Gallup-Palmer report is part of a three-year research project that involves public perception of the profession. “We think by the end of that time we’ll have a good sense of what are the next steps for Palmer and for the chiropractic profession,” Marchiori said.