Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), which includes a wide variety of disciplines such as naturopathy, homeopathy, and osteopathy, is fairly well-established at this point in the United States. CAM has even earned some recognition from mainstream or “allopathic” medicine. According to the Mayo Clinic, almost 40 percent of adults report using some form of CAM.
With the popularity of alternative forms of health care, the question arises: can I hold my naturopathic or homeopathic doctor accountable for medical malpractice the same way I can hold a normal doctor accountable? It is a good question, since as more people engage with alternative forms of health care, errors and injuries are bound to occur. Even if those who seek out such forms of health care may not be as likely to sue for medical malpractice, the question is still whether they able to do so.
The short answer is, yes, alternative health care practitioners can be held liable for malpractice. In any medical malpractice case, a plaintiff must be able to prove that there was a duty owed to the plaintiff, that the provider breached that duty, that this breach resulted in injury as a “proximate cause,” and that the plaintiff thereby suffered actual damages. Determining the duty of a health care provider in a given set of circumstances is of utmost importance to any medical malpractice litigation, including litigation involving naturopathic and other alternative health care providers.
Because standards of care are established within the framework of each discipline, plaintiffs looking to hold a naturopath liable for malpractice would need to make use of standards established by the profession or discipline itself. Liability could also arise when a naturopathic doctor fails to refer a patient for other appropriate care or who attempts to treat a patient for a condition which exceeds the scope of his or her expertise.
There are, of course, challenges plaintiffs face when attempting to pursue alternative health care providers for malpractice, including the issues of assumption of risk and the relative autonomy of alternative health care disciplines from outside criticism. Those who have suffered serious harm at the hands of an unscrupulous alternative health care provider should, therefore, always work with an experienced advocate in seeking compensation to ensure their rights are protected.
Mayo Clinic, “Complementary and alternative medicine,” Accessed Oct. 16, 2015.
Science-Based Medicine, “CAM and the Law Part 3: Malpractice,” Brennen McKenzie, Dec. 2, 2010.