While the majority of Australians use complementary therapies, there is limited research into how and why they use them. New research by the Australian Research Centre in Complementary and Integrative Medicine is paving the way to change that. The centre’s most recent project is set to better understand daily chiropractic care in Australia and how it could fit within an effective, coordinated healthcare system.
Chiropractic is undoubtedly popular but which treatment methods utilised by chiropractors work for which complaints? While a growing body of research reports some of the manual therapy methods commonly used by chiropractors offer benefits for some common musculoskeletal health conditions, more research needs to be done.
That, says Director of the Australian Research Centre in Complementary and Integrative Medicine (ARCCIM) Jon Adams, “is one of the reasons why ARCCIM has developed the world’s largest voluntary practice-based research network (PBRN) in chiropractic. Essentially, a PBRN is a database of member chiropractors that will enable researchers to quickly and easily obtain enormous amounts of information on chiropractic care.”
The project is titled ACORN (The Australian Chiropractic Research Network). It has been funded by the Chiropractors’ Association of Australia and is independently designed and conducted by senior methodologists at ARCCIM – the only research centre in the world dedicated to subjecting complementary healthcare to critical, rigorous public health and health services research investigation.
Already, says Adams, an impressive 36 per cent of all chiropractors in Australia have joined the network (most other PBRNs only achieve a five to 10 per cent participation rate).
Not only is the size of ACORN’s membership impressive, but so is the fact that the network is nationally representative on most major indicators – age, gender and location. In researcher terms, it’s exactly the type of dataset you want to work with.
According to Adams, “PBRNs are very much about connecting with practitioners and researchers, and about closing the gap between research and practice.
“The ACORN PBRN is new in what it focuses on – that is chiropractic − and the rigor, the caliber and the credibility of the ACORN project is world-beating; it’s world-first.”
PhD candidate and chiropractor Craig Moore is one of the first researchers to make use of the PBRN for his PhD research on the role of manual therapy treatment in the management of headaches.
Moore explains, “Headaches are the third most common reason people seek a chiropractor for treatment, after back pain and neck pain.
“My research is exploring how chiropractors diagnose headache, what treatment they provide, what are the circumstances by which they collaborate with other healthcare professionals as well as answering questions about the frequency, cost and duration of chiropractic care in this area.
“I've recently distributed a nationwide headache survey to chiropractors via the ACORN PBRN with over 330 participants recruited to date.”
It’s research that both Adams and Moore agree couldn’t have been possible without ACORN’s credible, representative dataset.
Says Moore, “As a chiropractor, I'm delighted my profession has access to this PBRN research platform, and excited a number of researchers are beginning to use it.”
Adams elaborates: “What ACORN is doing is finally mapping the territory of what daily routine chiropractic care looks like. Only when you've done that properly − and in this case because it’s nationally representative it's very rigorous − can you put the building blocks in place to ask more complex and interesting questions later.”
Adams says his background as a Professor of Public Health is helping to ensure the research produced will be used to create an effective, coordinated healthcare system. “With the disciplinary background of public health comes methodological rigor and a critical eye that helps cut through the emotive perspective we unfortunately see far too often around this area of healthcare.
“Public health, as a discipline, is about utilising established methods and designs to identify insights that help communities, and individuals, stay healthy,” he adds.
Adams says ACORN is a case-in-point of the way in which scientific investigation of complementary and integrative medicine can address contemporary health systems and global health challenges.
“The transparency ACORN can deliver could allow people to plan and manage healthcare in a more informed way, and extrapolating from that, it could allow for people to deliver more effective healthcare systems.”
Ultimately, Adams says, “ACORN is not just about facilitating more PhDs into chiropractic, and helping connect practitioners and researchers, it's also about letting other people in health research, and other people in government and policy, know there is now good infrastructure and baseline data on chiropractic that they can draw upon to help make informed health care decisions.”