Chiropractic is a branch of the healing arts which is based upon the understanding that good health depends upon a normally functioning nervous system, including the spine and the nerves extending from it. Chiropractors diagnose and treat neuro-muscular skeletal disorders such as spinal problems and sporting injuries and treat patients by adjusting the spinal column to manipulate joints and soft tissues.
Chiropractors are licensed and regulated in all 50 of the United States. The scope of chiropractic practices varies from state to state. Some states allow chiropractors to do very little other than perform spinal manipulations. Other states permit a number of diverse procedures such as acupuncture, electromyography, and laboratory diagnostics. The state chiropractic licensing boards consider a chiropractic applicant's education, training, and moral character in deciding whether to grant a chiropractic license. According to an U.S. chiropractic agency, chiropractic programs consist of four academic years of professional education averaging a total of nearly 5,000 hours. This includes an average of 1,975 hours in clinical sciences and 1,405 hours of clinical clerkship. The minimum number of hours for accreditation by the Council on Chiropractic Education is 4,200 hours.
Like other health care providers, chiropractors can be held liable for malpractice. Two common types of chiropractic malpractice allege either failure to diagnose conditions that require timely medical attention and damage from manipulation of body parts that have been weakened by disease or previous trauma. Some examples of malpractice claims against chiropractors are as follows:
- A chiropractor was held liable for malpractice when he made a diagnosis of nerve pressure and manipulated a patient's back. The patient was actually suffering from a heart attack
- A chiropractor was held liable when a patient suffered a brain hemorrhage during chiropractic treatment. The patient had been suffering from neck pain and a headache. The malpractice claim was based on the chiropractor's failure to refer the patient to a physician.
- A chiropractor was held liable for manipulating a patient who had suffered a ruptured disk. The patient required treatment by a surgeon.
To prevail on a claim of chiropractic malpractice, a plaintiff must show that the chiropractor deviated from the standard of care of a reasonably qualified chiropractor and that the deviation caused injury to the plaintiff. In general, expert testimony would be necessary to succeed on such a claim because jurors would need assistance determining what the standard of care demanded.
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