METHODS: One electronic database (PubMed) was monitored prospectively, via monthly PubMed searches, during a 12 month period (June 2003 to May 2004). Once relevant papers were located, they were reviewed. If the qualifications and/or profession of the care provider/s were not apparent, an attempt was made to confirm them via direct e-mail communication with the principal researcher of each respective paper. A letter was then sent to the editor of each involved journal.
RESULTS: A total of twenty four different cases, spread across six separate publications, were located via the monthly PubMed searches. All twenty four cases took place in one of two European countries. The six publications consisted of four case reports, each containing one patient, one case series, involving twenty relevant cases, and a secondary report that pertained to one of the four case reports. In each of the six publications the authors suggest the care provider was a chiropractor and that each patient received chiropractic manipulation of the cervical spine prior to developing symptoms suggestive of traumatic injury. Regarding two of the four case reports contact with the principal researcher revealed that the care provider was not a chiropractor, as defined by the World Federation of Chiropractic. The authors of the other two case reports did not respond to my communications. Regarding the case series, which involved twenty relevant cases, the principal researcher conceded that the term chiropractor had been inappropriately used and that his case series did not relate to chiropractors who had undergone appropriate formal training. The author of the secondary report, a British Medical Journal editor, conceded that he had misused the title chiropractor. Letters to editors were accepted and published by all four journals to which they were sent. To date one of the four journals has published a correction.
CONCLUSIONS: The results of this year-long prospective review suggests that the words chiropractor and chiropractic manipulation are often used inappropriately by European biomedical researchers when reporting apparent associations between cervical spine manipulation and symptoms suggestive of traumatic injury. Furthermore, in those cases reported here, the spurious use of terminology seems to have passed through the peer-review process without correction. Additionally, these findings provide further preliminary evidence, beyond that already provided by Terrett, that the inappropriate use of the title chiropractor and term chiropractic manipulation may be a significant source of over-reporting of the link between the care provided by chiropractors and injury. Finally, editors of peer-reviewed journals were amenable to publishing letters to editors, and to a lesser extent corrections, when authors had inappropriately used the title chiropractor and/or term chiropractic manipulation.
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