FAKE VAIDYA: 06 Tests to Identify One

Naturally, the world got very curious when it came to know about the existence of Ayurveda, a medical system with a legacy of thousands of years and thriving even today. The realization that Ayurveda has answers to even the most nagging health issues transformed this curiosity into a quest seeking the real healing hands of Ayurveda. Today, people from the farthest of places come to India seeking the best of Ayurvedic scholars and healers. Conversely, there is a proliferation of Ayurvedic professionals and products internationally.

The lure of profit and the wickedness to exploit the unsuspecting in the name of Ayurveda is perhaps as old as Ayurveda itself. Many consumers believe that Ayurveda is 100% safe and nothing can go wrong. But beware! Ayurveda can also cause harm-if done incorrectly, or by a fake Vaidya (Ayurvedic physicians are called 'Vaidya' roughly meaning 'the one who knows' in Sanskrit).

[For more on Who is a Vaidya, check this article out (Malayalam): Vaidya: Much beyond 'Doctor']

A Fake Vaidya's Mugshot

A fake vaidya or simply, a quack, is not learned or experienced enough to understand the human body and its functions comprehensively. Neither are they capable in diagnosing precisely, preventing complications or managing them. Most often, they may not even have the essential knowledge of the very medicines or methods they use. 

A quack is usually a shady solo entity without any affiliation to professional peers or institutions of repute. A quack could be surrounded by fans, devotees or minions. But when something goes wrong, both the quack and the victim are isolated and abandoned by these very fans. There have been severe casualties, some even fatal, due to quackery. The quacks often escape because they are masters of deceit. Only the victims and their families suffer. But eventually, the blame somehow falls on Ayurveda as a whole.

This dilemma of quackery is being handled at various levels by the Government of India as well as organizations like Ayurveda Medical Association of India. But for seekers of true Ayurvedic relief, it would be a good start if you are able to tell a genuine Ayurvedic physician and a quack apart. Here are a few tests that you should do on your physician before entrusting them your life:

Test 01: Verify the source of information

How did you come to know about this Physician?

- If it is through a random website, give a thorough check of the statutory content of the website like the 'About Us' page, Testimonials, Terms and Conditions etc. Look for names, affiliations, credentials and cross-check it with other sources. A good social media scrutiny itself will expose a lot of quacks.

- If it is via an advertisement or pamphlet, see how direct and correct it is. The promotional materials of quacks are usually found with a lot of tall claims and erroneous content. Almost always, they are distributed discretely or as direct handouts. A quack would say that they are not after cheap publicity but the truth is they will end up in trouble if they advertise in accredited press or publications

- If it is via an individual, ask how they got the info. Check if they have been treated by the physician or is it just hearsay. A lot of quacks manufacture this ‘word-of-mouth publicity’ as it cannot be held as any proof. The quack or their minions would repeatedly claim that this physician has even treated the 'President' or all the movie stars on planet earth. Many quacks actively pursue negative feedback; not to make it right but to cajole or even threaten them to keep shut. So, always take third party information about a shady 'vaidya' with a grain of salt.

Test 02: Check the 'Docs' of the 'Doc'

Genuine practitioners have a direct and open way of promotion and communication. They would have their name, accreditation and registration number displayed. It is your right to know the full credentials of your practitioner and there is no shame in asking it. The proofs of such credentials are usually certificates provided by universities and medical councils. Also ensure that such Universities and Colleges actually exist and the Degrees are in fact medical degrees. A photo of that person standing next to a naked sanyaasi in the Himalayas is NOT a license to practice Ayurveda. 

Test 03: Look up the physical address

First of all, make sure there is one. If yes, see if the clinic or healing center has displayed the name and credentials of this particular physician. It is a common practice among quacks to fool a doctor friend, relative or a graduate fresh out of college (who is naive enough not to see the motive) to get the paperwork and approvals done in their name. Also get feedback from the local residents. A lot of quacks follow this pattern of materializing at a place out of nowhere and then have this aggressive growth. Not many locals would know this person up close and personal. Majority of the clients would be from far off places. A good physician would most likely have a good repute in their own locality.

Test 04: Evaluate the prescription

It needn’t win a calligraphy contest but the prescription must be legible. You, as the one paying for it, have the right to know what has been written down for you. The prescription should bear the name, credentials and signature of the physician consulting you. See if the physician is prescribing medicine from that system of medicine itself. Do not accept if the medicines are from another system of medicine. Ayurvedic physicians are here to practice Ayurveda. If you need medicines from another system, there are practitioners of that system to help you out. Of course, there are certain provisions of the law and circumstances permitting this, but in general, an allopathic doctor prescribing Ayurveda medicines or a Vaidya prescribing allopathic medicines are both practicing quackery. 

Test 05: Ensure quality and authenticity of the medicines

Make sure you are given what is written down in your prescription. See if the medicines given are in properly sealed and labeled containers. Ayurvedic practice may require the physician to mix medicines from different containers or dispense it from a larger container or numbers to suit a dosage specific to you. A good physician won’t object if you wish to see the mixing or dispensing done. Quacks have a very secretive approach when it comes to dispensing medicines. A lot of them do not even disclose what is being given as medicines. Some would say that the potency of the medicine is lost if disclosed, which is outright stupid. Others would say that it is a traditional secret formulation handed over to family only and if disclosed would make them lose their family treasure. Well, this is also not true. One reason is that genuine traditional healers have license and registration. They can apply for patent and ownership rights for this knowledge. Quacks cannot do this, simply because they have no traditional secret or the proof to prove it.

Test 06: Look for Psychological and Sociological Giveaways

Every individual has their own unique psychological signature and Ayurveda physicians are no exceptions. But there are some traits commonly found in quacks. Here are some of them:

- A lot many of them display a peculiar kind of superiority complex. They bring a super-enlightened aura around them or they would always pretend to be super busy and arrogant. They won’t accept what you have to say and you are forced to accept whatever they say. No questions are entertained. They would say that they are open to queries but will make sure that those who ask are ridiculed or shouted upon so much so that no one ever dare to raise a question again. This is certainly not the way of a learned physician.

- Quacks take special care to bring in as much confusion as possible. They would raise haphazard claims and controversial theories to break established concepts to create a panic or a ‘wow’ factor. This approach attracts a lot of fans who are generally low in logical thinking.

- Money needn’t always be the motive behind quackery. Some adopt it to gain better social acceptance. Some have hidden agendas like recruiting to certain belief systems or so. For many commoners however, a person treating for free assumes a Godly persona. Many quacks devour this 'divinity' that is 'imposed' upon them.

- Quacks tend to be very intolerant towards all other physicians or healing systems. They would often ridicule or criticize the previous treatments you had. But, they would also carefully avoid confrontation with the wise. If at all they are brought into a debate, they would either get exposed or they will make a chaotic scene and escape. Mind you, these quacks are quite good with their words and they always have a way to capture or deflect attention. All quacks are influential orators.

- When the methods or medicines do not work, they often tend to put all the blame on the clients. If you say that the medicines didn’t work they would retort by saying that you didn’t take it the right way. If you develop some complication, they would say that you must have broken the strict regimen that was advised along with the medicines. Quacks ask a lot of leading questions..sometimes in a tone and manner that is borderline threat.."Aren't you feeling better now? AREN'T YOU!!?? I KNOW YOU ARE!"

- If by any chance or mistake, they get any accreditation, they would always wear it on their forehead. A photograph with a renowned physician, an award from a "Cultural Society", a TV interview.. all these are promoted and propagated by quacks as if they are somehow validated and accredited due to these accolades. 

- Quack are the biggest advocates of controversial theories and 'research papers' that nobody else have heard of. They may even carry voluminous textbooks with certain areas underlined and would even quote from them by heart. People would get fooled and would believe that their miracle-worker physician has actually learned all these literature and is currently in an intellectual magnanimity to ridicule the best books on medical science. They would even propagate that every 'professional doctor' is wrong and is working for a 'lobby'.

Quacks are a Threat to the Society

Knowingly or unknowingly a quack is endangering peoples' lives. They hinder the accessibility to genuine and professional medical care. They make active efforts to make people lose trust in formalized medical systems. This dilemma is the worst in Ayurveda because it was around for quite a long time and many people claim that they have traditional heritage of Ayurveda. Many a time, this is very difficult to validate. Even traditional practitioners need to qualify tests and get certified now. Newer generations of such families are required to undergo formal medical education in order to continue the practice. But common people have this instinctual attraction to the 'magic-mystic', metaphysical and unorthodox approaches, which many quacks take advantage of. 

Keep in mind that not all quacks are outright crooks. Many of them do not even realize that they have become fraudsters. For them it would be more like a blind faith, a psychological disorder stemming from inferiority complex or simply a means to survive. More frighteningly, there are 'fan groups' that elevate these 'friendly neighborhood quacks' into 'super-humans' and then keeping these fools as a cover, run brothels, money-laundering, drug-peddling, human trafficking, gold smuggling and what not behind their backs.

What to do if you have doubts on the credibility of a physician 

Well, first thing, again is to look for certifications and licenses. If you get a registration number, contact the registering body to verify. For example, Ayurvedic practitioners in Kerala, India must register under the Travancore Cochin Medical Council. So, all you need to do is to call up TCMC (0471 230 2756), ask the operator to connect to the Ayurveda section and give them the registration number you got. You can also contact the Ayurvedic Medical Association of India (AMAI), which is an accredited consortium of the Ayurvedic community. If you pass on whatever information you have, they will verify it for you. If spurious, they will even initiate action against that individual or institution.

So, that’s it! The six tests to identify a quack and the ways in which you can ensure that they are not posing any threat to yourself and the society. If you diligently conduct these six tests and your physician qualifies with flying colors, then you can be pretty confident that your health is in good hands.

About author

Dr. Nimin Sreedhar

Managing Director, Ekavaidya Knowledge Services Pvt. Ltd.; Founder- Dravya App,

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