A Columbia chiropractor tried a novel marketing approach: combing police reports for names and addresses of accident victims so that he could send them information about how chiropractic services treat injuries.
But Steven Helschien, of the Helschien Chiropractic Center, apparently will not get a chance to reach those victims. The Howard County Police Department has agreed to provide copies of reports to the center, but said it would first delete the victims' names and addresses.
"I think people who are involved in accidents don't want to be bothered by anything like that," said Police Chief Frederick W. Chaney. The county's legal department advised him to exclude information about victims in reports it provides to Helschien.
The center's quest for the reports began in November when Helschien asked Sgt. Sidney Smith, custodian of the Police Department's records, to furnish copies daily. Smith said the chiropractor was willing to pay the $3 administrative charge for each copy.
"He denied that this was for personal business," Smith said. "He said it was for humanitarian interests."
Helschien could not be reached for comment on whether he would want the reports with victims' names omitted. His attorney, Neil J. Fagan of Columbia, said yesterday that he had not received written notification of Chaney's decision and declined comment.
Helschien and Fagan last month had made formal requests for two of the reports through the Freedom of Information Act, Smith said.
Smith said he still refused because department policy prohibits the distribution of a report to anyone unless the person was involved in a particular accident or represented someone who was involved. The Howard police also limit report access to the news media, typically channeling information through the department's public information officer.
Fagan indicated in a letter to a county official that Helschien would send pamphlets containing the center's name, address and telephone number to victims. He promised that the center would not contact victims again.
In a profession that has struggled for years to achieve legitimacy and respect, chiropractic organizations expressed concern about Helschien's proposal.
"We've never had this before," said Audie Klingler of the &L Maryland State Board of Chiropractic Examiners, adding that the state board plans to determine whether the practice would violate advertising standards.
Dr. Howard Balduc, vice president of chiropractic affairs at the American Chiropractic Association, a trade group in Alexandria, Va., also said it was the first time he had ever heard of a chiropractor trying to use police records to seek out or inform accident victims.
Balduc said he wasn't sure whether the action violated industry standards. He did, however, refer to the profession's code of ethics, which states: "Doctors of chiropractic should, by their behavior, avoid even the appearance of professional impropriety and should recognize that their public behavior may have an impact on the ability of the profession to serve the public."
Dr. John Schwietert, of the International College of Chiropractors, also questioned the practice. He said it "sounds a little fishy."
Last year, Helschien and the center were sued by a woman who claimed several employees not licensed as chiropractors or physical therapists treated her for services they were not licensed to perform.
The suit was settled out of court but the Board of Chiropractic Examiners began an investigation into the matter.