SINGAPORE - A trip to the chiropractor was supposed to bring much-needed relief, but for one lawyer, it turned into a pain in the neck - literally.
Lawyer Ellen Leong, 71, had a free screening during a roadshow last October and collected her report five days later.
The chiropractor, Mr Brian Morris, advised her to seek treatment.
Ms Leong claimed she was offered a six-month, 48-session package for $2,700 upfront or a four-month package costing $950 a month.
"I asked to try a session as I was not prepared to commit for six months, but was told there was no such scheme," Ms Leong recalled.
"But I was previously quoted $85 for a single session at the roadshow."
She paid $950 for eight treatments. That worked out to be almost $120 per session.
Ms Leong claimed the first session lasted five minutes while the second session was over in two minutes.
"He actually hurt the left side of my neck during the second session," she alleged.
Upset, she consulted her MP and lodged a report with the Small Claims Tribunal in November.
She received a full refund the following month.
Mr Brian Morris, 36, has spent three years practising in Singapore and "makes it very clear with our clients that we have a refund policy".
If for any reason customers are dissatisfied, Mr Morris would refer them to other chiropractors.
"Otherwise, we're happy to give a refund. We try to be clear and upfront about what clients can expect from the start," said Mr Morris, who received his chiropractic qualifications from the US.
Customers tend to get upset when they do not see improvements as quickly as hoped, he said.
"(So) it's important to tell them from the beginning that the problems they're suffering from didn't happen overnight but developed long-term and long-term solutions are needed."
He declined to discuss Ms Leong's case, except to say: "I wish she had come to me directly."
Was she pressured to buy a package?
"I have no interest in pressuring anyone into doing something they don't want to do," Mr Morris said.
"There's no pressure at all."
The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) signed a memorandum of understanding with The Chiropractic Association (Singapore) last July to protect consumers' interests.
The consumer watchdog's executive director, Mr Seah Seng Choon, gave these tips to consumers consulting chiropractors:
Do not be pressurised into signing a contract without understanding fully what the contract or treatment entails.
Exerting undue pressure on a consumer to enter into a transaction is an unfair practice under the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act.
The consumer can simply leave if he or she feels pressured to sign up.
Check the chiropractic association's website for a list of qualified chiropractors who have agreed to adhere to its code of ethics.
A woman bought a 90-session package for her father.
But after 12 sessions, she felt that the treatment was not effective and wanted to discontinue the treatments.
The clinic refused to refund the unused sessions.
A customer bought a $18 chiropractic voucher at a roadshow, went for consultation and paid $4,500 for a 30-session package to treat his neck and lower back.
But his stiff neck condition recurred more often. There was no improvement in his lower back even after 24 sessions.
He requested to terminate the package and got a partial refund.
A customer with severe back pain visited a chiropractor who did some general spinal "adjustments" and he signed up for 60 general treatments over two years.
He paid $3,200 for the package and $150 for the consultation.
He later realised that chiropractic treatments should only be targeted at the specific problem and not a general treatment.
He cancelled the package and asked for a refund. Though he informed Case about the matter, he chose to liaise with the chiropractor himself.
Why the chiropractic industry in Singapore is not regulated
Why the chiropractic industry in Singapore is not regulated
Regulate us, says The Chiropractic Association's (Singapore) honorary secretary Janet Sosna. But the Ministry of Health (MOH) said self-regulation is enough.
The reason: Chiropractic is an alternative medicine.
The New Paper looks at their comments.
THE CHIROPRACTIC ASSOCIATION (SINGAPORE):
WHY IS THE INDUSTRY NOT REGULATED?
Ms Janet Sosna: It is self-regulated, meaning chiropractors volunteer to meet the association's code of ethics and standards.
There are about 100 chiropractors in Singapore, with many abiding by the highest professional standards.
The problem arises when some chiropractors opt for a marketing-based business model, hire consultants and use fear to pressure customers to sign up for packages.
We've voiced concerns about the unethical sale of excessive, clinically unsubstantiated and prepaid packages to MOH (Ministry of Health) since (the problem) first occurred in the late 1990s.
WHAT SHOULD CUSTOMERS DO THEN?
Ms Sosna: Members of the public are advised to seek their care from an association member, as this is the only guarantee of receiving care that meets international standards.
We have a strict policy for the sale of prepaid packages, with a 12-treatment limit (the number is substantiated in chiropractic-medical literature).
Complaints against members would be dealt with through a disciplinary procedure. Offenders will be warned and could be expelled from the association. (But we have) no jurisdiction over non-members.
HAS THE ASSOCIATION PUSHED FOR MORE STRINGENT REGULATION?
Ms Sosna: We've met several times with the director of medical services for traditional and complementary medicine at MOH. We've also brought in overseas experts from the United States and Australia to present education and practice standards.
(But) our pleas appear to have fallen on deaf ears.
Our profession will be regulated quickly if it is deemed to be causing harm to the public but we've been told financial harm did not count.
MINISTRY OF HEALTH:
WHY DOESN'T MOH REGULATE THE INDUSTRY?
MOH: Chiropractic is a form of complementary and alternative medicine. Hence, chiropractors are not registered medical practitioners or TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) practitioners.
Although not statutorily regulated, chiropractors are subject to laws from other regulations eg. Medicines Act, Sale of Drugs Act, Poisons Act, Business Registration Act and Companies Act.
WHAT CONDITIONS HAVE TO BE MET FOR MOH TO STEP IN TO REGULATE THE CHIROPRACTIC INDUSTRY?
MOH: Chiropractors should continue to self-regulate the profession.
The Chiropractic Association (Singapore) has developed a code of practice, ethics and advertising guidelines for the profession and encourages chiropractors to abide by these codes.
WHAT REDRESS DO UNHAPPY CUSTOMERS HAVE?
MOH: Consumers can write to the Consumers Association of Singapore (when there are disputes due to) misleading advertising and sale of treatment packages.
Patients and their caregivers are advised to exercise due diligence and consult appropriate health-care practitioners for their medical problems. When in doubt, they should consult a registered medical practitioner.
Get The New Paper for more stories.