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Medical Quackery: To Ban or to Adapt?

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Ray has had some experiences with quack doctors in the Philippines. He has been carefully observing the good and bad sides of quackery.

What Are Quacks or Quack Doctors?

Quacks are uneducated and unlicensed people who perform healing procedures or prescribe remedies for different illnesses. Some of them make and sell their products to treat ailments and diseases, some deliberately deceive their patients about their ability to treat illnesses, and others practice their craft with full trust in their competence. They are practitioners who pretend to have extensive medical education and skills.

What Is Medical Quackery?

Quackery is precisely what the quacks do. It involves the use of techniques that are not scientifically accepted. Questionable ideas, as well as dubious products and services, are some of the trademarks of untrustworthy professionals.

Quackery affects the lives of all types of people—the gullible and the wise, the rich and the poor, from all races and religions. Due to the high cost of medical services and the growing number of new disease cases every year despite advances in science and technology, unsupported medical claims are people's last resort.

Seldom, people searching for miracle remedies and cosmetic perfections have no choice but to go to untrustworthy professionals. Because of this, fake medical experts exploit the fears and hopes of people resulting in a sustainable career for them.

Nowadays, medical quackery has taken on a broader definition. It involves the overpromotion of anything in the field of health. Thus, companies that make misleading claims about the effectiveness of their products such as dietary supplements and nonprescription drugs are all unsubstantiated medical claims.

Some Famous Quack Doctors

  • Albert Abrams was an American quack physician who invented radionic machines. He even wrote a convincing curriculum vitae. Included in his CV are his academic achievements like finishing a doctor's degree at the Medical College of the Pacific.
  • Edward Hooker Dewey was also an American quack physician who invented the "No Breakfast Plan."
  • Valentine Greatrakes, also known as "Greatorex" or "The Stroker," was an Irish faith healer who treated people by laying of hands.
  • Gaylord Wilshire was a politician and untrustworthy medical expert who was well-known for selling the "lonaco." Lonaco was an electric belt believed to improve health.
  • Willis Sharpe Kilmer was an American journalist known for marketing a "Swamp Root" recipe. "Swamp Root" formula was a patent medicine and regarded as quackery by experts.
  • James Morison was a fraudulent British physician recognized for marketing "Hygeian Vegetable Universal Medicine." It was a cure believed to treat all kinds of diseases.
  • Lydia Pinkham was a quack doctor during the 19th century known for her "Lydia Pinkham's Vegetable Compound," which is a patent medicine for female diseases.
  • Samuel Solomon was known to market his "Cordial Balm of Gilead."

Who Are the Victims of Quackery?

Victims can be of all ages and gender. It can be people who have been found to be suffering from serious ailments or diseases like cancer, heart problems, etc. This case is seemingly familiar in rural or countryside places.

Other victims are people who are afraid of doctors or those who do not want to undergo surgeries. Some people are terrified of needles and all other hospital medical apparatuses. That is why they prefer to have their illnesses treated by resident quack doctors whom they think are trustworthy.

Lastly, most victims are people who give a high premium to beauty or aesthetics. There have been a lot of people fooled by unapproved beauty products and enhancements from untrustworthy professionals. In many cases reported, most were unsatisfied and suffered facial injury.

How to Identify Quacks

Here are some tips on how to identify quacks.

1. No Advertisements
Quack doctors do not put up posters or ads for their products and services. People come to know about their services through word of mouth.

2. Perform Services At Home
Most of the deceitful doctors deliver services in their own houses. In some rural areas, they go to their client's house for the treatment.

3. Claim Secret Formulas
Some claim to have secret formulas, which aren't available from drugstores or real doctor's prescriptions. Some of their ointments or treatments are inside jars or bottles with unfamiliar ingredients.

4. Poor Sanitation
Some perform their services without regard for sanitation. They use unsterilized apparatus and other materials.

5. Unfamiliar Prayers or Incantations
Some utter unintelligible prayers or incantations while treating their patients.

6. Same Procedure for All Operations
You will observe that all their procedures are the same for all kinds of illnesses.

Possible Effects of Medical Quackery

1. A person who is ill may die in the hands of unreliable medical professionals.

2. A sick person who goes to a quack for treatment instead of a professional doctor may only prolong or even worsen his illness.

3. After the medication, considering there is no healing done, the patient gets well by his/her faith either in the quack or given remedies. This phenomenon is the placebo effect.

4. It is a waste of money if the patient's condition does not improve.

5. The patient's family may only get false hope if the quack assures them of the patient's complete healing.

Some Examples of the Possible Effects of Quackery

Richard Hindle, who has a professional degree in Medicine, submitted a journal section entitled "The Illustrations of Quackery" to the editor of the provincial medical and surgical journal in the United Kingdom. In his work, he exhibited his witnessed worse illustrations of unsubstantiated medical operations done by unreliable specialists.

Case I of Hindle's journal is about a blooming and healthy 21-year-old daughter of a farmer. Unfortunately, the farmer's daughter experienced symptoms of inflammation of the bowels and had a convulsion.

Initially, a medical man medicated the farmer's daughter with some effect. However, due to the dissatisfaction of her friends, they consulted an imported professor, who promised a speedy cure.

The professor sent instructions which included mixing rum, brandy, and gin. Three days after, the girl suffered from the following:

  • Acute stitches both in the thorax and abdomen
  • Shortness in breathing
  • Highly flushed face covered with perspiration
  • Hot body surface
  • A pulse rate of 17 upwards

A month after the farmer's daughter's attack, she died. According to Hindle, the cause of her death may be the influence of the stimulating compound previously suggested to them.

According to case II of the journal of Richard Hindle, there was an aged woman who had a tumor in the auxiliary region and consulted with several medical men before her surgery with an unprofessional surgeon.

The medical men were unanimous about the woman's condition claiming that her case was hopeless. However, due to the hope of the woman's recovery, they consulted a fresh adviser and surgeon, who ventured an opening into the tumor.

The surgery did not go well because the attempted operation brought on hemorrhage which caused her death. Both cases witnessed by Hindle show that a person may die in the hands of untrustworthy professionals.

Quacks Using Traditional Medicines

In some countries, traditional practitioners use traditional medicines called herbs to cure illnesses. These medicines are plants proven and recommended by health experts that can cure various diseases. The World Health Organization (WHO) categorizes medicinal uses of herbal drugs as:

1. Those that are supported by clinical data—this category includes medicinal assumptions that are well-established in some countries and that have been validated by clinical studies documented in standard scientific works of literature collected from around the world.

2. Those described in official pharmacopeias and traditional systems of medicine—this well-established category is included in official pharmacopeias or national monographs in some countries

3. Those uses described in folk medicine that are not yet supported by experimental data or clinical data—there is no assessment for the appropriateness of this category since it lacks scientific data to support the claim. It needs careful consideration for medicines under this category in the light of alternative therapeutic applications.

Herbal Medicines Supported by WHO in United States and Philippines

United StatesPhilippines






Gotukola herb



Rhubarb root

Turmeric root

To Ban or to Adapt?

Many licensed health experts nowadays recommend herbs for the treatment of a large number of ailments and diseases, including some serious ones. In some countries, traditional medicine continues to be a living practice in both urban and rural areas.

There are these quacks in the Philippines called "hilots" recognized by the Department of Health. "Hilots" use medicinal plants or herbs in assisting in giving birth, providing a cure for sprains and muscle pains, and even giving advice on family matters. They play, to some extent, the role of doctors in some rural areas. There are some cases where some are trained to enrich their knowledge and improve their skills as traditional practitioners.

Though conventional medicine has been used in some countries, it still has a negative impact and several downsides. Nowadays, it is difficult to tell whether services are quackery. The untrustworthy professionals selling their overly promoted products are all over the market, and it indicates threats to the health and wellness of the consumers.

Quackery results in more harm than good. It can lead to spending money on unnecessary, overpriced products and cause abuse to the body. It can lead to spending on worthless forms of therapies.

After all, the best defense against these dangerous activities is to seek the advice of a medical specialist. Knowledge of consumer health, health information, health products, health services, and consumer health education are necessary for making wise decisions regarding health products and services.

It is best if you stay away from fake advertisements and report tricky health practices to the authorities. Get prescriptions only from specialized doctors and buy only medicines prescribed by them. Be an intelligent client. Always think of the effects of the products and services we buy.

Therefore, medical quackery should be banned.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2018 Ray


Ray (author) from Philippines on July 12, 2018:

Hi, Ma'am Pamela. I've already changed the POV of the last part. I realized that after all, we must always seek guidance from medical specialists to cause no harm to ourselves. Therefore, quackery must be banned. Thank you very much. Have a nice day, Ma'am.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on July 12, 2018:

I think quackery is dangerous. Your article clearly spells out the dangerous. I do think there are some herbs that can be helpful, but they don't replace traditional medicine.