Regulating Homeopathy

Regulating Homeopathy

In February 2005 George Smitherman, minister of Health and Long-term Care for Ontario, asked the Health Professions Regulatory Advisory Council (HPRAC) to recommend whether (and how) to regulate the profession of homeopathy in Ontario.

This came as a surprise. Ontario had been politely rebuffing requests for regulation by one homeopathic association or another since 1992. The provincial government was also sitting on a 1996 HPRAC recommendation to regulate naturopathy under the Regulated Health Professions Act.

In April 2006 HPRAC recommended that homeopathy be regulated in a joint body with naturopathy, and the provincial government introduced legislation to that effect on December 14, 2006.

Sooner or Later

No legislation has been tabled yet; the ministry has its hands full with its first foray into modern regulation of a complementary/alternative medicine (CAM) profession. Because it is part of a large omnibus bill covering a number of health matters, there is no guarantee that it will go through before a necessary election in 2007.

A bill to regulate traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), introduced in December 2005, is going through its own paroxysms, having displeased some TCM practitioners enough that they’ve held public demonstrations. Should Dalton McGuinty’s government be defeated in an election, the whole initiative might be back to square one.

But the general trend in Canada is toward the mainstreaming of CAM, and that means regulation. Even opponents of the idea recognize they’re only talking postponement.

Debating Pros and Cons

Regulation of CAM is, by nature, a double-edged sword. Its purpose is to protect the public and make the profession more accountable; it guarantees your homeopath will have had a set amount of training–eliminating “weekend experts?and easily enables you to make a complaint if you feel you’ve been mistreated. These are laudable goals with which everyone agrees. But regulation has its side effects, both positive and negative.

By creating more of an aura of respectability around the profession, especially if it permits a practitioner to be called “doctor,” regulation can inspire greater confidence and trust in patients. A regulated profession is more likely to be covered under private health insurance plans, and to be considered a viable career option by young people, increasing public access to it over the long-term.

On the other hand, regulated practitioners tend to increase their fees, both to reflect their improved status and to cover the costs of maintaining a regulatory college. This is why HPRAC suggested joining homeopathy and naturopathy; each profession is too small on its own to easily foot the whole bill. Homeopaths who split their time with other careers, or who practise in rural areas with small clienteles, might be driven out of the field entirely by the added financial and administrative burden (regulation entails a lot of paperwork). So homeopathy will likely become pricier.

Rules, Rules, Rules

A more subtle side effect is the possible addition of new, perhaps overly rigid rules governing practice. Homeopathy has been plagued with controversy over its methodology for its entire 200-year history. If one faction manages to gain control, you might find your homeopath unable to offer previously available treatments. No one is trying to launch such a coup, but regulation makes it feasible.

What are the ramifications of two professions, homeopathy and naturopathy, being joined in one regulatory body? It’s never been tried before, so no one knows. A weakening of both is not inconceivable.

There are pluses and minuses, and much depends on how well the whole business is managed. Whatever happens, your homeopath is going to continue doing his or her best to serve you.

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