I was not going to write about the recent “Naturopathic Chat” forum leak. But then, while having dinner tonight, I had a dark thought: What if my hypothetical naturopath (or real doctor) were talking about me, my medical history, family, and other personally identifiable information in a web forum with a readership of 3,300 members? And what if this so-called private venue had a known spy–someone who was lurking, reading, and sharing these posts with others across the Internet?
If you are a naturopathic patient, the likelihood that your naturopath is chatting about you online is high. You are at risk of being a victim of a HIPAA violation.
The patients of real doctors, that is medical doctors, do not need to worry as much, if at all, about this kind of regular breach of privacy because chatting online about patients is considered highly unethical and is vehemently discouraged by any legitimate medical profession. For naturopaths, however, who have little sense of what is ethical, let alone legal, online forums are places where they engage in melees of transgression and ineptitude.
A brief background: the online behavior of naturopaths
A few online venues exist exclusively for licensed naturopaths. I used to be a member of three Internet groups: two on Facebook (largest one here) and one on Yahoo! groups called Naturopathic Chat, or “NatChat” for short. All three require proof of being a naturopath who graduated from one of the CNME-accredited programs in order to join. Membership requires one to show some combination of a state license number, date of graduation, and name of alma matter. These groups serve as places of “safe haven” to share clinical pearls (meaning, knowledge about treatments gained through experience) and to pose questions about anything related to naturopathic medicine.
When I decided to leave the naturopathic profession, I removed myself from these groups. No one asked me to leave, as I had not yet publicly debuted my blog or my new and improved views on naturopathic education and practice. None of my former friends and colleagues knew I was planning to start a blog. (It was a rather spontaneous decision.) I removed myself from these groups as a professional courtesy. I did not take any information with me when I left. I never even thought to do so. At the time, I knew having such information would be tempting to use against the naturopathic profession in political efforts (like seeking loan forgiveness), and I chose not to tempt myself. I remember thinking that I had enough fuel for the fire.
The thing is, there is a “spy” in the NatChat Yahoo! group. I become aware of this sometime at the end of 2014, when I read a post by David Gorski on ScienceBasedMedicine.org where he discussed information that was leaked on Reddit. (This was about six months before I started this blog.) After reading Gorski’s post, I immediately thought that I would soon be accused of being the spy. Sure enough, I am the number one suspect.
I don’t care about this so much. It’s rather silly. Even sillier, they accuse me of being employed by ScienceBasedMedicine.org because I have written guest posts there. Sorry NDs, ScienceBasedMedicine.org is just a popular blog run by a group of welcoming and accomplished professionals, whom I am glad to consider my supporters in advocating for better medicine through science. Such flimsy allegations demonstrate the inability to exercise even the most basic deductive reasoning. The chronology of the leaks and me voluntarily removing myself from NatChat and the Facebook groups just do not make a compelling case to indict me.
Having said that, what bothers me the most about the NatChat leaks is that naturopaths display an utter disregard for preserving patient anonymity. Now that I am aware of how other medical professionals conduct themselves, naturopaths seem entirely in violation of health privacy laws. The naturopaths in this online forum know, for certain, that someone is sharing their messages. And yet, they continue to ask questions with inappropriate details that can lead to compromising the identity of those under their care.
46 year old woman presents to clinic with fatigue, adrenal exhaustion and hypothyroidism. We have worked extensively to support her digestion and immune system and adrenal glands. These are now well supported. She is quite happy with the change. She has been helped the most with adrenal supplements, and these along with Thornes thyrocsin have helped her make strides. She now is able to function at her high stress triple A job without utter exhaustion. She is still “wiped out” at 9 pm, but at least not at 4 pm anymore.
He goes on to provide all of her lab results, imaging results, a detailed family and personal history, and current list of medications.
Not surprisingly, the first treatment recommendations given by his fellow NatChatters include a gluten-free diet, a “blood-type diet,” and IgG food allergy testing. Because when in doubt, any good ND must recommend dubious diets and hope for the best, right? Not to mention, he thinks she has adrenal fatigue, which is a fake disease commonly diagnosed by NDs to tirelessly sell bogus nutritional supplements. If there is one saving grace about the NatChat leaks, it is showing the world how grossly deficient naturopathic medical training really is.
Generally, a high-degree of incompetency
I am often accused of throwing the baby out with the bathwater because I have allegedly taken a few bad experiences and mischaracterized the entire ND community. Supposedly, there are some “good” naturopaths out there.
Yet, I believe I have been understating the level of incompetency of naturopathic “doctors”. Here is a zinger. Emily Longwill, ND from Ventura, California asks the NatChat group:
I have a patient who I am concerned has leukemia. I have never made this diagnosis before and am looking for guidance. This patient is un-insured and not interested in seeing a MD unless absolutely necessary.
WHAT? This makes me so angry! I cannot even be tactful here. WTF, Emily? You are concerned and not sure what to do!? Guidance needed!? Is the suspicion of cancer not considered “absolutely necessary” to refer out!?
After “Dr.” Longwill reports she had previously treated the patient using chelation therapy for lead, mercury, or thallium, she goes on:
I am considering ordering flow cytometry/immunophenotyping versus going straight to bone marrow biopsy. Any suggestions for other tests or things to rule out?
The answer is “welcome to not being a real doctor, Emily”.
Thankfully, Mona Morstein, ND (the moderator of NatChat) picked up on this irresponsibility:
I would call a hemotologist [sic] for case discussion and possible referral. I’m not sure why it’s come about that NDs feel they have to [sic] everything with patients, especially when the situation is new to them, and not seek helpful discussions with MD specialists in that field.
But Mona, why is this a case for a possible referral? Nice try.
Beside the obvious incompetence, I selected this leak in particular for one other reason. I am from Ventura County, California. I have friends and family there, some of whom might consider visiting a naturopath for medical advice, as much as this makes me want to cringe. This is a serious, potentially life-saving warning to my loved ones back home (and anyone, anywhere): Never see a naturopath. Especially one named Emily Longwill.
Too much sharing, not enough caring
It has been pointed out to me that no other professional group–medical doctors, psychologists, nutritionists, etc.–runs secret social media chat rooms that encourage the discussion of their patients. This is for good reason. It is breach of privacy, and it is unethical. Shame on naturopaths for putting their patients’ privacy at risk.
Now, tragically, this information is public, available on pastebin for all to see because NDs setup an unsecured venue which made the leak possible in the first place.
If you are a naturopathic patient, be warned, your naturopath has probably talked about you on the Internet. Maybe she has even discussed some of the most intimate aspects of your body, like Melanie Whittaker, ND from Stanwood, Washington who got her ND from Bastyr in 1992:
Did a routine pap recently on a new patient. There was a really excessive amount of mucus/exudate that I thought was coming from the cervix. Cultured and checked for all diseases and it came back normal vaginal flora. Patient is now HPV hi risk positive-she says no one has told her this before. She gets paps yearly usually and she is in her 50s.
Patient only has noticed sometimes a different odor. The discharge had no odor. I figure with that much discharge she could easily have odor sometimes.
I don’t know what to do about helping decrease this discharge and I really think that needs to happen.
The patient does not seem bothered by this “symptom.” Only Melanie, who clearly has not done enough paps to understand the variation possible in the amount of vaginal mucus. So she decided to talk about it on the Internet. It is also unclear why Melanie decided her patient was now considered to be high-risk for HPV, to the dismay of her patient. This is yet another demonstration of how naturopaths are dismally trained leading them unable to perform common primary care procedures. This is shameful.
Dear medical doctors, don’t be a naturopathic puppet
Naturopaths often use medical doctors to order labs or write prescriptions for their patients. This needs to stop. It is happening frequently, and it is dangerous. In fact, just today, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners advised that doctors deny patient requests for unnecessary tests suggested by their naturopaths. (Sorry, the link is behind a paywall, but Google cache still has it available.) I could not agree more with the RACGP warning.
Medical doctors need to know that they can play right into the hands of under-trained pseudo-doctors, who do not even know what to do with the information that is ordered on their behalf. It is a waste of time and money, and, in some cases, might be practicing medicine without a license. This is how naturopaths can skirt around medical practice acts that are meant to prevent under qualified individuals from causing harm.
Dear real doctors, Please stop helping naturopaths break the rules and contributing to increased health care costs and greater patient harm.
Here is a great example of the pure malfeasance of one such naturopath. Mychael Seubert, ND, from the unlicensed state of New York shared how easily it is to get medical doctors to help him avoid the problem of not actually being licensed to practice medicine in his state:
This is my first posting for help on a case and appreciate and help you can provide. I had a complicated case on Friday and this is a long posting. I am in an unlicensed state (NY), but have an MD that will run pretty much whatever labs I recommend in this case.
Seubert goes on for another 1200 words, detailing anything you could really ever want to know about his patient. He starts off with
A 52 yo Caucasian Male (Greek) presented with a CC of Chronic Kidney Disease (Stage 4 Polycystic Kidney Disease) and his main symptoms he suffers from are fatigue, light twinges in his lower back, and erectile dysfunction/low testosterone. Kidney dysfunction was first discovered about 8 – 9 years ago. He states he has also been diagnosed with bipolar disorder since 1979.
Someone should report this jerk to the New York state medical board.
Helping others break the law
Besides the egregious violation of patient privacy, there is another terrible thing about this Internet forum. Naturopaths seem to be using it to help each other break the law, not just dance around state licensing technicalities.
I really miss it [Iscador] now that we can’t get it (legally) here in the states. I had a great response with a stage IIIb melanoma patient who is still cancer free after 3 yrs, with only 1 yr of Iscador before the FDA stopped shipment in the US. He did no other conventional treatment other than his initial surgery of the lesion and 4 lymph nodes, so hard to say if they just got it all, or if it was a combo. Still, I loved using it.
Not legal? No problem? Hana Roberts, ND asks,
Where are people getting it now that it is illegal in the US? I would like to start using it.
Yes. You read that correctly. She is asking how to obtain an illegal medication to use in her practice.
I was told to call a Canadian pharmacy and have them unofficially send me some, or find an ND willing to send it to me.
Fortunately, McElveen has a wee-bit of a moral compass and states that she is uncomfortable going through with this process. But we know very well that other naturopaths seem to have no moral qualms about importing non-FDA cancer medications and administering them to terminally ill cancer patients.
NDs, you are your own mole
Dear naturopaths, I am not your mole. But frankly, I don’t care if you continue to suspect me. While you are worrying about me, your patients will still suffer as you insist that you are capable of doing things that are just not possible given your training and belief in the ridiculous philosophy that is naturopathic medicine. The truth about naturopaths is beginning to sink in.
As long as naturopaths continue to share information in online forums, there will be spies and leaks. NDs have already shown the public that they should not be trusted nor counted on to act as legitimate doctors. Except to a small proportion of diehard patients who will choose nothing but alternative medicine and, sadly, a number of legislatures who readily buy naturopathic talking points that they “treat the root cause of disease,” naturopaths are on a path to discredit themselves. The naturopathy leaks perfectly reinforce the fact that NDs are not medically qualified and are only poised to cause more harm than good.
My job just got a little bit easier. Thanks!