Most people have probably never heard of "pastoral medicine," or, as it is also called, "Bible-based" health care. A Texas-based organization called the Pastoral Medical Association is responsible for issuing "pastoral provider licenses" to people in the U.S. and in 30 other countries (video below).
However, these so-called doctors of pastoral medicine are raising red flags with some consumers and medical boards, notes NPR.
The HealthCore Center in Richardson, Texas, features a woman dressed as doctor on its website, wearing a stethoscope with the caption: "We don't just treat your symptoms, we find the root cause."
The website also has sections covering thyroid, diabetes and weight loss treatments, as well as a link to a patient-review site.
HealthCore was founded by Karl Jawhari, a chiropractor who touts his license and his employees' licenses from the Pastoral Medical Association on his website.
"We work with a lot of people to reduce their weight [...] and we've had great success with that," Jawhari told NPR.
Jawhari was fined $2,500 in August 2015 by the Texas Board of Chiropractic Examiners for deceptive advertising.
The Texas Medical Board issued him a cease and desist order to not offer services beyond his chiropractic training, which he said he has complied with.
"And I've heard of a few people that are practicing, they're not even doctors," Jawhari said. "So, it's up to the consumer to do due diligence and figure out [...] does this doctor know what he's doing?"
If it truly were left up to the consumer (with no medical training) to "figure out" a medical provider's skills, there would be no purpose for any state medical boards or licensing.
According to Mari Robinson, the president of the Texas Medical Board, the board has become aware of pastoral medicine certifications and has issued some cease and desist orders.
"It's really only in the past couple of years we've become aware of the term 'pastoral medicine,' and that folks are purporting to treat and diagnose illness using whatever they're calling that," Robinson said. "It's not a degree, it's not a license."
According to Robinson, it is illegal to diagnose, treat, or offer to treat people without professional training and licensing.
The Pastoral Medical Association told NPR by email that it was created by a group of Christians concerned with chronic illness and works to protect providers who care for those seeking "the Almighty's natural health care."
The Pastoral Medical Association website features a woman dressed as a doctor with a stethoscope and states:
Health care practitioners, whether state licensed or not, as well as mental health counselors that seek license to offer services in the Network must pass rigid standards to qualify for PMA license.
The practitioner must meet specific educational standards, must participate in a comprehensive evaluation of his or her credentials and practice as well as pass a detailed background investigation and participate in at least two interview sessions with a PMA license representative.
Practitioners spend several hundred dollars in the license application process and their annual license fees can range from a few hundred to a couple thousand dollars.
However, the site does not say what the "rigid standards," "comprehensive evaluation" or "detailed background investigation" actually include.
"They're just simply claiming that, 'Any advice we give you is pastoral in nature,'" Stephen Barrett, of the consumer protection site Quackwatch.org, told NPR. "In other words, 'If I give you health advice that's not medical advice, that's pastoral advice.'"