The main reason we need chiropractic research is to improve the quality of care provided to patients. That’s a given. But research offers another benefit to our profession; it’s an incredibly powerful marketing tool. This applies to all health care disciplines and can be seen most clearly in pharmacology.
Take aspirin, for example. Here’s a drug that has been linked to gastro esophageal reflux disease, allergic reactions, dyspepsia and gastrointestinal hemorrhage, anemia, bleeding ulcers, confusion, dizziness, hemorrhagic strokes, pancreatic cancer, miscarriage and other diseases and conditions. Yet, relying on the dubious results of a couple of minor research projects, drug companies have marketed aspirin as a “lifestyle” drug to the tune of—as the Bayer Corporation puts it—“11 billion tablets and counting.” According to Euromonitor International, a leading provider of global consumer market intelligence, there is no end in sight. “Should current positive publicity persist regarding the benefits of a daily dose, aspirin will continue to be among the most valuable self-medication products. Aspirin sales, and Bayer in particular, will be direct beneficiaries of this lifestyle positioning.”
The research that put the booster rockets under aspirin’s sales was a 1988 study of a relatively small group of middle aged and older males who were at increased risk of coronary heart disease, but had not previously had heart trouble. In this select group—hardly typical of the larger population—those who took daily aspirin had fewer heart attacks (but more strokes). Researchers never recommended the “aspirin a day” therapy and included several important qualifiers about the risks of aspirin.
However, before the news embargo was even lifted, Reuters ran the story and, by the next day, nearly every major newspaper was proclaiming aspirin as a lifesaver. Front-page stories appeared in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and hundreds of other publications around the world. Over the next week, follow up stories continued to saturate the press and appear on television and radio news programs, magazines and other media. From this one research report, sales of aspirin skyrocketed and a new market for aspirin as a “lifestyle” drug was born.
Can you imagine if the headlines in those same newspapers proclaimed, “Chiropractic found to strengthen immunity;” or “Study shows chiropractic can reduce blood pressure;” or “People live longer, healthier lives thanks to chiropractic, researchers say”? Hundreds of thousands of people would immediately pick up the phone and call for an appointment with the nearest DC. Chiropractic would become a “lifestyle” choice, as integral a part of life as eating more fiber, flossing after each meal, or gulping down an aspirin a day.
Two things are needed to achieve this goal. First, we have to conduct the appropriate research. We need to shift the focus away from studies about chiropractic for low-back pain in adults and concentrate on examining the impact of subluxations on health and proving chiropractic’s ability to achieve meaningful and long-term improvement in overall wellness. Our schools must devote themselves to that type of research. If the project is too daunting and expensive for chiropractic colleges (such studies normally cost millions of dollars), they should support private sector research projects like Research and Clinical Sciences, which is engaged in the largest population-based health outcomes project ever conducted. Chiropractic doctors, too, need to support and promote this kind of research.
Second, we have to have a well-planned publicity campaign that can generate the type of coverage granted almost every medical “breakthrough.” Despite the media’s long-standing animosity toward chiropractic (a consequence of their close financial relationship with the pharmaceutical industry), we have proof that good chiropractic research can result in positive coverage. In 2004, for instance, an article in the Journal of Vertebral Subluxation Research explored the possible link between subluxations and infertility. A press release, distributed to all major wire services and media outlets—combined with contact with health reporters—resulted in extensive newspaper and magazine articles, television news reports and Internet coverage. If we can get that kind of coverage on a single-issue topic like infertility, imagine what we could do with a series of research reports linking chiropractic to an improvement in overall wellness.
In the past, chiropractors rarely thought about how research could impact their own practices. It was something conducted in an “ivory tower” setting and that resulted in nearly incomprehensible reading material suitable for the serious academician. It’s time to throw that image out the window! Research is the greatest marketing tool we have and it can have a direct influence on the number of patients we see each day in our offices.
Dr. Jackson is chief executive officer of Research and Clinical Science, a private sector research program exploring issues of subluxation correction and chiropractic care as they relate to health and wellness. To learn more or to sign up as an RCS Authorized Research Site, call 800-909-1354 or 480-303-1694, or visit the Doctors-Only section of the RCS website at www.rcsprogram.com. (Log in with username rcsdoctor and password rcsdoctor.)