27 B.C. naturopaths under investigation as college cracks down on misleading ads

In the eight months since B.C.'s naturopathic college began cracking down on dubious advertising, 27 practitioners have been placed under investigation, according to the college registrar.

Earlier this month, all naturopaths in the province were given a deadline of Jan. 21 to make sure their public materials are in line with college policies and bylaws or face automatic investigation. The ultimatum is part of an enforcement drive launched last May.

In an email, registrar Phillipa Stanaway said the college's mandate is to protect the public, which means making sure British Columbians can make informed decisions about their health care.

"In order to do that, members of the public must receive accurate information from regulated health-care providers. Advertising that has the potential to mislead members of the public may put their health at risk and is a serious concern of the college," Stanaway said.

The college has said that the majority of naturopaths have taken the initiative to make sure their websites, social media channels and other advertising are in line with the rules. To put things in perspective, there are 593 practising registered naturopaths in B.C. — the 27 currently under investigation account for 4.6 per cent of the total number.

Nevertheless, the college has said it is still seeing dubious claims and offside materials appearing "with unacceptable frequency."

The Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors describes naturopathy as "using natural therapies including: botanical medicine, clinical nutrition, hydrotherapy, homeopathy, naturopathic manipulation, traditional Chinese medicine/acupuncture, lifestyle counselling and health promotion and disease prevention."

'Our goal is to bring that figure to zero'

The rule violations include using patient testimonials in advertising, claiming to be specialists and making claims about treatment that cannot be verified, Stanaway said.

If anyone allows that content to remain online after Monday, the naturopaths responsible will be referred to the college's inquiry committee for investigation and discipline. The college is asking for minimum fines of $ 500 per infraction along with other sanctions.

Stanaway was unable to say how many naturopaths were still violating the rules in the days leading up to Monday's deadline.

"In our ongoing efforts to eliminate advertising infractions, we continue to find violations, and, as a result, are unable to provide an accurate estimate of the number of registrants who remain in violation of the bylaws and advertising policy. Our goal is to bring that figure to zero," she said.

The crackdown began in May after CBC revealed that three B.C. naturopaths were offering a homeopathic treatment for autism that falsely advertised "complete elimination of autism spectrum expression."

The college immediately banned the practice and announced an enforcement drive on advertising and marketing materials. That also includes any anti-vaccination content or promotion of vaccination alternatives.

A similar crackdown is also underway at the College of Chiropractors of B.C.

Stanaway said anyone who notices violations of college policy should email a complaint to office@cnpbc.bc.ca.

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