About eighteen years ago, as we were advocating for a practice act in Virginia, a big upset was that MD’s, DC’s, and DO’s (and podiatrists within their scope) could practice acupuncture with only 200 hours of training. Time and again, acupuncturists complained (and continue to complain) about this — after all they say (and we said to the legislators and staff at the Department of Health Professions) acupuncture is far more than sticking a needle in the body. Acupuncture is a complete system of healing, a theory, a philosophy, a paradigm, a system of diagnosis. A doctor may be able to safely stick a needle in a point (though these are, after all, very special needles, nothing like a crude hypodermic), but they aren’t doing “acupuncture.” Mention MD’s and DC’s “with limited training” doing acupuncture to most LAcs today and you’ll get anger and complaints.
What gets LAcs (or OMDs or CAcs) even more incensed today — Physical Therapists (or DC’s) sticking a needle in a point and saying it isn’t acupuncture. After all, we say to the regulatory boards (and even more loudly to each other), they’re sticking an acupuncture needle in a point. We don’t care whether the PT is thinking only that a trigger point causing pain could be released by this needle. Or that they know nothing of the theory of Chinese medicine. All we know is that if they are sticking a needle in a point they are doing acupuncture, they darn well better not call it anything else, and they ought not be allowed to do it.
I’ll save the in-depth conversations about TPDN, scope of practice (it doesn’t mean what you think it means), and coalition building for other days. For today, I just want to ask that our profession show some consistency. Consider the implications of insisting that acupuncture is defined as a needle in a point, or the implications of insisting it is far more than that, and especially consider the implications of changing the definition to suit a short term need. Consider the implications on what you do in your treatment room, as well as the impact on our battles with other professions, our interactions with regulators, our involvement with third-party payer systems, and perhaps most importantly, on how we build our brand. Above all, remember that like a house built on shifting sands, a profession built on shifting definitions is unlikely to stand the test of time.