My post about Dr. Hammesfahr below has provoked some questions via email. So, before I stop writing about him I thought I'd encapsulate more his story in a bullet-pointed post here. Some of this is in my previous post, but some is new.
- Yes, Dr. Hammesfahr is an M.D., and he's a board certified neurologist.
- No, he was not truly nominated for a Nobel Prize. At this writing, his claim of being Nobel Nominated is on his web page, meaning he is forwarding this misinformation himself.
- He was disciplined by the Medical Board of Florida for charging for services he did not provide.
- He has not published in legitimate peer-reviewed journals. Indeed, a 1999 St. Petersburg Times piece notes "His articles have been turned down by well-known medical journals," so it's not for lack of trying.
- He is listed as one of the "Promoters of Questionable Methods" on Quackwatch.com, and an analysis of his treatments is posted there as well.
- The only journal he's published in is one which is on a domain that's registered to his office (and for which the administrative contact phone number is his own office phone). He is on the editorial board, as is an employee of his and another Hammesfahr, likely a relative. The submission guidelines for this journal are laughable to anyone who has actually seen guidelines for a true medical or scientific journal.
- The therapeutic regimen he has proposed has not been tested in any rigorous scientific manner; everything I've seen written about it is anecdotal.
- He makes wild claims about his therapy being useful for a wide variety -- literally dozens -- of etiologically unrelated neurological and psychiatric disorders, without scientific validation.
- He has not treated Teresa Schiavo: he examined her as one of five MDs which a Florida court asked to evaluate her. Two MDs were selected by Michael Schiavo, two (Hammesfahr, a neurologist, the other a radiologic/hyperbaric physician) by the Schindlers, and one neurologist was appointed by the court. All the neurologists except for Hammesfahr found her in a persistent vegetative state (the hyperbaric MD agreed with Hammesfahr that she wasn't). Here's what Theresa Schiavo's Guardian ad Litem (his report [PDF] is extremely worthwhile reading) wrote about the medical evidence of these five physicians (PDF File; pp. 16-17):
The scientific quality, value and relevance of the testimony varied. The two neurologists testifying for Michael Schiavo provided strong, academically based, and scientifically supported evidence that was reasonably deemed clear and convincing by the court. Of the two physicians testifying for the Schindlers, only one was a neurologist, the other was a radiologist/hyperbaric physician. The testimony of the Schindler’s physicians was substantially anecdotal, and was reasonably deemed to be not clear and convincing.
The fifth physician, chosen by the court because the two parties could not agree, presented scientifically grounded, academically based evidence that was reasonably deemed to be clear and convincing by the court.
Following exhaustive testimony and the viewing of video tapes, the trial court concluded that no substantial evidence had been presented to indicate any promising treatment that might improve Theresa’s cognition. The court sought to glean scientific, case, research-based foundations for the contentions of the Schindler’s physician experts, but received principally anecdotal information.
Evidence presented by Michael Schiavo’s two physicians and the fifth physician selected by the court was reasonably deemed clear and convincing in support of Theresa being in a persistent vegetative state with no hope for improvement.
- On his webpage, Hammesfahr posts the following as an apparent selling point for his therapy:
In fact, this quote is taken from the disciplinary action (PDF of the record of that proceeding) that found Hammesfahr had not provided services for which a patient had paid. Another issue in the disciplinary action was whether Hammesfahr had actually engaged in false advertising by claiming his results were "peer-reviewed" and for saying he was the first to use this treatment to help patients. The paragraph from which Hammesfahr extracted the quote above is, in full:
The Judge essentially finds that, since Hammesfahr had run his so-called results by some friendly peers, he had actually had his results "peer-reviewed" in that narrow sense. And, since he was the first (and at the time, only) to use his therapies and some of his patients got better during the time he was treating them, the strict wording of his advertising was true.
It's hard to believe, but the guy is using that snippet, from a Judge in Florida which indicates that no other doctors are using his therapy, as a testament on his webpage. Amazing.
Also, the judge basically finds that his therapy is "alternative," which is protected under Florida law about alternative medicine. Thus we begin the slide to allowing doctors to use untested therapies.
Finally, to address a broader issue, many people seem to wonder why scientific evaluation should be necessary, if it seems that Dr. Hammesfahr is "helping people."
Since Dr. Hammesfahr resorts to anecdote, I'll illustrate the issues that arise with an anecdote. Let's say a patient was seen by Dr. Hammesfahr and given a treatment regimen to take home and have her physician implement. When this patient returned home, her doctor refused to administer the drugs Hammesfahr had indicated. She improved greatly anyway.
Would she likely have improved even more without paying for Hammesfahr's therapy? Would she have improved less, or the same amount? Would his therapies impede or improve her progress? These questions cannot be answered by a collection of anecdotes, no matter how high they mount. They must be assessed with rigorous, scientifically oriented, peer-reviewed studies.
Then, at least those who pay Dr. Hammesfahr money would know if they're throwing it away.
UPDATE: Here's a report by Dr. Ronald Cranford about the Schiavo case. It's interesting overall, and it includes lot more information about Hammesfahr, as well as other health care personnel who diverge from the overwhelming medical consensus in the case. Predictably, Dr. Cranford has been slimed for his medical expertise. I suppose he's not surprised.
FURTHER UPDATE: A look at two other doctors hired by the Schindlers. And a challenge to Dr. Bernadine Healey.