The Cleveland Clinic Foundation: Mixing cow pie with apple pie in pediatrics

Thanks to a winter storm that dumped a heapin’ helpin’ of heavy wet snow on us last night, we lost power before this post even got going. However, I did have a bit of time this morning to finish it up as a quickie (by my standards) before my laptop battery indicator started expressing its displeasure. Since it’s a topic that doesn’t really necessitate a long post anyway, it’s a perfect fit for today, and I’ll just put off what I was going to write about today until tomorrow. Or the day after if nothing else comes up between now and then that interests me more. You see, the power company is currently giving an estimate of late tonight for getting our power back on, and I can’t blog at work. If that happens and we remain without power tonight, I’m afraid there will likely be a rerun tomorrow. True, it won’t be the end of the world, but it will be annoying, as I think I’ve been on a roll lately. Sadly, though, nature (and our power company) do not respect such things. Stay tuned. In the meantime, let’s take a brief look at something a reader sent me that is emblematic of what’s wrong with academic medicine.

Regular readers know that I did my surgery residency at University Hospitals of Cleveland (i.e., Case Western Reserve University), and if you didn’t know you do now. Of course, unfortunately, of late I’ve been very embarrassed by my surgical alma mater’s whole-hearted embrace of woo (described here), back in the day there used to be a fierce rivalry between UH and its wealthier, tonier competitor just up Carnegie Avenue, The Cleveland Clinic. Now, if UH has embraced quackademic medicine recently, even going so far as to host a conference on “integrative” oncology. That’s nothing, however, compared to the CCF, which has had a huge head start in “integrating” quackery with real medicine to produce a toxic brew of quackademic medicine.

Not too long ago, someone sent me a link to a webpage on the CCF site that was depressing to behold called Acupuncture for Kids: A surprisingly effective choice. I wanted to say that it would be a surprise if it had any effect beyond placebo at all, but apparently that’s not what the CCF means. Sadly, that doesn’t stop the article from going straight to woo:

Acupuncture has surprising advantages for kids with health problems. One of the biggest? No side effects. “A lot of kids are medication-sensitive, and acupuncture doesn’t have the side effects of medication,” explains Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist Benjamin Katholi, MD.

Another advantage is fewer doctor visits. “We can address multiple symptoms in a single treatment just by different point selection,” says Dr. Katholi.

Oh really? Acupuncture results in fewer doctor visits? Dr. Katholi bases this claim on…what evidence? None. No evidence is listed on the CCF web page, just Dr. Katholi’s burbling about how great acupuncture is and how it can be used for the following conditions:

  • Sleep problems
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Reflux, nausea and stomach pain
  • Bone and joint pain
  • ADHD
  • Asthma and allergies
  • Bedwetting
  • Drooling

As I frequently ask: Is there anything acupuncture isn’t good for? Apparently there is, according to Dr. Katholi:

Acupuncture doesn’t replace traditional medical treatment, says Dr. Katholi. “Acupuncture can’t treat everything; if you have diabetes, you still need insulin. If you have seizures, you still need epilepsy medications. So there’s a place for both.” –

Imagine my relief.

Of course, this is yet another example of the fallacy of “integrative” medicine, in which quackery is “integrated” with real medicine. But to paraphrase an old song, nothing plus something leaves something. Unfortunately, it doesn’t add anything to that something. As Mark Crislip once put it, “If you integrate fantasy with reality, you do not instantiate reality. If you mix cow pie with apple pie, it does not make the cow pie taste better; it makes the apple pie worse.” Sadly, CCF likes to mix lots of cow pie with its apple pie.