IF somebody described themselves as “an extremely busy integrative oncologist with back to back patients”, what conclusions would you draw about their qualifications and practice?
Naturopathy might not be the first profession that comes to mind. Or perhaps it would be in this age of smoke and mirrors.
Gold Coast naturopath Manuela Boyle recently lost her appeal against convictions for a number of offences related to information on her website and other online platforms.
The appeal judge found quotes like the one above could suggest to an ordinary reader that Ms Boyle was a registered health practitioner and qualified oncologist.
Interestingly, Boyle’s self-description quoted above was accompanied by a link to an article on a well known medical website about doctors being dangerously tired, reinforcing the impression Boyle was one of those overworked medical professionals.
Across her online platforms, the naturopath was variously described as a “Senior Consultant of Functional and Integrative Medicine – Oncology”, a “Researcher and Clinician of Functional Medicine and Integrative Oncology”, and a “Consultant mentor to MDs”.
Her use of the title “doctor” seemed at best doubtful, the judge found. He noted her use of the initials “PhD c” might indicate she had begun coursework for a PhD but that she had not completed it or received the actual degree.
Boyle’s failed appeal against her convictions is the latest episode in a saga that goes back to at least 2017, when the Australian Health Practitioner Registration Agency (AHPRA) wrote to the naturopath raising concerns about the way she represented herself on her website and Facebook page, including her use of the word oncologist.
In an exchange of correspondence, Boyle defended the language used, though she did temporarily take down her website for review.
In her submission to the court, she argued any naturopath who offered a patient a particular plant-based product to help them overcome the effects of any form of cancer was engaged in the practice of “oncology”.
In other correspondence brought before the court, Boyle said she had done an intensive course on “integrative oncology” offered to NDs.
ND is a term used in the United States to indicate a “naturopathic doctor”.
In reaching his decision, the appeal judge said the health and safety of the public were paramount, and that Boyle’s reinstatement of her website after issues had been raised by AHPRA was “at least reckless”.
Let’s hope none of those “back to back patients” treated by Boyle believed they were seeing a clinician with actual medical qualifications.
People facing a cancer diagnosis are entitled to choose any regimen they wish, including turning their backs on evidence-based treatment in favour of dietary modification or any number of other “natural” alternatives.
But it’s horrifying to think some might not realise that is what they are doing when they turn to somebody who claims expertise in oncology.
The least an alternative health practitioner can do is to be precise about their qualifications, or lack of them.
As the appeal judge said: “It is not clear why the appellant could not simply describe herself as a naturopath.”
Jane McCredie is a Sydney-based health and science writer.
The statements or opinions expressed in this article reflect the views of the authors and do not represent the official policy of the AMA, the MJA or InSight+ unless so stated.