Doctors Stand Up for Lyme Patients

By Cathy Barrett

Our right to treatment in Australia is under threat and some courageous doctors are making a stand.

Anyone who has experienced Lyme disease or an Australian Lyme-like illness is likely to have a story of success with a treatment that is considered ‘complementary’ or ‘unconventional’ or outside of conventional Western medicine.

For many of us, these therapies have kept us alive, helped us walk again or pulled us out of our Lyme nightmares. Many of us rely on our daily dose of ‘unconventional’ and ‘complementary’ therapies just to maintain a somewhat normal life.

‘Integrative medicine’ encompasses many of the ‘unconventional’ treatments that the Australian Lyme community depend on. Integrative medicine combines “the best of conventional Western medicine” with “evidence-based complementary medicine and therapies”, as described by the Australian Integrative Medical Association.

Patients who have had the support of an integrative practitioner through their Lyme journey will know the value of support from these doctors. Unfortunately, in Australia, integrative doctors who treat Australian Lyme disease are becoming fewer as more are being forced to stop or are being deterred by the threat of disciplinary action. This leaves patients in Australia with a dwindling number of practitioners with experience in recognising and treating the condition.

Now, as if it wasn’t hard enough already, the situation is under threat of becoming worse.

Disturbingly, instead of Australian medical authorities supporting the progress and expansion of the promising and life-saving area of integrative medicine we are very close to taking a giant leap backwards.

The Medical Board of Australia is proposing to apply tighter regulations to integrative doctors by creating new guidelines that apply to ‘complementary and unconventional medicine and emerging treatments’.

These changes would provide our Australian Health Practitioner Regulatory Agency (AHPRA) with greater power to regulate and discipline doctors who practice outside these guidelines.

These new guidelines specifically target;

  • “Lyme-literate” doctors
  • “Diagnostic tests that are not well accepted” and “testing in non-accredited laboratories”
  • The use of “herbal medicine”
  • The use of “long-term antibiotics for Lyme-like illness”
  • And many more therapies highly valuable to patients with Lyme disease, Australian Lyme disease and other chronic illnesses

Obviously, these guidelines pose a massive threat to doctors treating Lyme-like illness and associated conditions and could have a devastating effect on the Australian Lyme community.

The public has been invited to comment on the Board’s proposal, which is detailed in a Public Consultation Paper and draft Guidelines, by the 30th June.

The inspiring doctors from the Australian Chronic Infectious and Inflammatory Disease Society (ACIIDS), have already submitted a detailed response.

ACIIDS points out that the new guidelines go against the principles set out in the best practice regulation guide that the Medical Board of Australia and AHPRA are supposed to follow to ensure the development of best practice regulation, designed to protect both doctors and patients.

Effectively, the Board’s new guidelines, ACIIDS claims, will significantly reduce public safely and consumer choice, as the number of current and future integrative doctors decrease, deterred by the excessive regulations and restrictions placed on them.

Ironically, patient safely is being used as the justification for the Board’s proposed changes.

ACIIDS point out that there is no evidence that the treatments prescribed by integrative doctors are more likely to cause harm to patients than those from other GPs, and that there is therefore no legal justification for targeting these practices.

These regulations specifically and unjustifiably discriminate against integrative medical doctors.

A significant increase in costs to the public would also be seen, as integrative doctors adjust their fees to accommodate the additional administrative and procedural requirements.

All very bad news for patients with Lyme and other chronic illness..

In response to this targeted attack on integrative practice in Australia ACIIDS makes the following points;

  • No additional regulation of doctors practicing complementary medicine is required.
  • All GPs should be subject to the same guidelines, and the current guidelines adequately deal with the Board’s areas of concern.
  • Integrative doctors are highly educated and extensively trained. They offer evidence-based treatment options that often have significantly better outcomes for patients than more conventional doctors.
  • Patients that visit integrative doctors have a right to access this area of medicine if they wish to do so, and often do so after they experience little success with more conventional doctors.
  • Integrative doctors are better placed than specialists for managing multisystem illnesses.
  • Emerging treatments are used by every medical speciality and are highly beneficial to the growth of medicine.

ACIIDS highlights concerns that the Board may have some existing bias towards complementary medicine as they equate ‘complementary’ with ‘non-evidence-based care’ in their Consultation Paper.

ACIIDS also voices concern that grouping the very diverse areas of ‘complementary medicine’, ‘unconventional medicine’ and ‘emerging treatments’ together, to guide regulation, will create a system vulnerable to arbitrary interpretation and abuse.

It is not hard to see how many grey areas one might find in such a system.

Concern is also raised that the guidelines may be the beginning of a campaign to stop the practice of integrative medicine entirely.

Integrative medicine is highly valued by patients all over the world, especially those suffering from Lyme and Lyme-like illness. Under the current global situation, Lyme patients rely on a community of progressively thinking researchers and practitioners to survive. It would be devastating if they disappeared.

Let’s band together to stop this from happening!

How to make a submission

We have already made great progress in Australian through campaigning and telling our stories.

Share yours now and contact the Medical Board of Australia to make a submission. Email, and title it ‘Public consultation on complementary and unconventional medicine and emerging treatments’.  A short email is fine. Even if just a couple of sentences. Simply state at the top that you’d like to make a confidential submission if you prefer your story to remain private.

Integrative health is world’s best practice and is the future of medicine.

ACIIDS doctors say “integrative medicine should be encouraged, fostered and supported” and we know the patient community agree

Let’s stand together to help make this happen!