I’ve blogged extensively on the outright fraud going on with chiropractic and alternative-health clinics claiming stem cell miracles, like regrown bone-on-bone knees, while having nurses inject dead amniotic or cord-blood tissues. This morning, I’d like to look at the next step down. These are clinics that likely have an MD on board but aren’t doing their best work or have added stem cells more as a business line to bring cash in the door. So they aren’t fraudulent like the chiro clinics, but they aren’t centers of excellence either. So how can you tell?
The 7 Signs
I’ll use one particular website I found for a stem cell clinic in Florida as a template, but this could be any of a hundred websites I’ve seen over the last few years. This one bills itself as a sport and spine spa. The term “regenerative” is also thrown in there.
I’ll focus on 7 things you can easily find in any website or ad:
- Testimonials Without Any Data: In this website, you’ll find testimonials galore, but you can’t access any data that the clinic has collected on specific treatments. Meaning you should be able to easily drill down to any body part or diagnosis treated and find the exact number of patients treated to date, their pain and function before and after the procedure, and the percentage improvement. In addition, there should be data on hundreds to thousands of patients presented. None of this is here because the clinic has collected no data. Given that these are investigational procedures, there is an ethical need to collect and report outcomes and complications data. This is often where the wheat gets separated from the chaff, as any clinic that’s reputable MUST provide you with this information in real time.
- No Publications: I can find nothing that this clinic has published in the peer-reviewed literature on the procedures being offered. As an example, if the clinic is offering treatments for the disc, as this one does, it had better list publications that it created on its specific technique. When I click on the blog, I see “Scientific Studies,” but that’s where the bait and switch begins. There is a paper on disc treatment listed there, but it wasn’t authored by the clinic. Digging deeper into the website, it’s clear that the procedures being offered at this clinic for the disc are different from those that were described in the disc paper published by someone else. Meaning this is a classic research bait and switch. The research listed has little to do with what the clinic actually does.
- Jack of All Trades, Master of None: Our Florida sport and spine spa website advertises bioidentical hormone treatment (age management), vaginal rejuvenation, cosmetics, and stem cells. There is no focus here, and all of these services have only two things in common: you can take a weekend course for all of them, and they are all focused on cash-based services. As an example, at Regenexx, we only focus on interventional orthopedics and the use of orthobiologics (stem cells, PRP, cytokines, and other things that will help tissues heal). Just mastering this area has already taken half a career (mine) and will take another 15 years as procedures are refined. This is such a big area, we had to launch an entire nonprofit just to teach physicians in this field. To learn more about interventional orthopedics, see my video below:
- Out-of-Specialty Care: This website states that the doctor is specialized in interventional pain management. First, I can find no certifications in interventional orthopedics, which is what she seems to be practicing. In addition, vaginal rejuvenation would need to be performed by a board-certified ob-gyn. Similarly, cosmetics would need to be performed by a board-certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon. Meaning that for much of the care being delivered, this doctor was never trained and certified in that area.
- Special Deals!!! This website promises to give you discounts, which for me, doesn’t pass the smell test. While any physician may decide to help a patient who is having financial difficulty, and that’s a time-honored tradition in medicine, when the clinic begins advertising deals on the website, like the Taco Bell down the street, Houston, we have a problem. Meaning medical prices are fixed via the cost of medical equipment, the facility, the doctor, the medical staff, and so on. Hence, if a clinic is advertising teaser rates, what are their prices based on?
- Traditional Pain Management Advertised Alongside Regenerative Medicine: This website has epidural steroid injections and radiofrequency offered. These are treatments that go in the opposite direction of regenerative therapies. For example, epidural steroid injections are performed with a milligram-dose steroid, which is approximately 1 million times more than physiologic. As a result, we have copious data that the steroid harms and breaks down tissue. So why would a clinic still offer treatments that damage tissue alongside those that supposedly help tissue heal?
- The Birth Tissues Stem Cell Scams Are Front and Center: The doctor claims to be using stem cells derived from Wharton’s Jelly but presents no credible scientific data on whether this contains live and viable stem cells. Why is this an issue? See my video below where I discuss what data this doctor would have to present to support this claim:
So What Does an Orthopedic Stem Cell Center of Excellence Look Like?
Here are what we should see:
- The clinic publishes online outcome data on the procedures it performs, and you can easily find that up-to-date data on the website by body area. There should be hundreds to thousands of patient results listed so that you can see the mean outcome for any one type of problem.
- The website lists peer-reviewed publications on the specific protocol that the clinic uses.
- The clinic focuses on one area (i.e., orthopedics).
- The doctors at the clinic practice within their specialty areas. Meaning a pain management doctor performing OB-GYN procedures is unethical and inappropriate.
- The prices are the prices. While some discounting may happen, when you can’t tell the discounting methodology of the clinic from the fast-food chain down the street, this is an issue.
- There is a focus on regenerative medicine, meaning the clinic doesn’t have one foot in the idea of healing tissues and another in the field of destroying those same tissues.
- While birth tissues may be used, there isn’t a claim that these are stem cell treatments.
The upshot? We have a clinic that is likely not a fraudulent endeavor, like the chiro clinics out there. Having said that, it’s easy to tell on the website that this isn’t a center of excellence. So use my 7 signs to ID a clinic that isn’t practicing at a high level. These are clinics that cause you to look elsewhere!