17 Foundational Beliefs of The Acupuncture Observer

Embracing the season of gratitude and thanks, it’s time for The Acupuncture Observer to take a step back and share some of her foundational beliefs about the medicine, the profession, and life.

  1. Acupuncture/OM works. The unique situation of the patient and the unique skills of the provider influence effectiveness. No single tradition provides all of the answers or benefits.
  2. Acupuncture/OM has fewer negative side effects and risks than conventional treatment for many conditions.
  3. Access is a necessary precursor to effective treatment.
  4. Effective treatment will increase wellbeing and could decrease health care costs.
  5. Every means to increase access carries trade-offs. Those trade-offs must be understood as we determine our path forward. We should learn from the experiences of other professions.
  6. Understanding and explaining the mechanism of acupuncture from the knowledge base of modern biology and physiology is useful and interesting, but is not necessary for acceptance by the medical establishment.
  7. The current “science-based” understanding of health is known to be limited. Insisting that Acupuncture/OM be taught, thought of, or explored only in the language of modern medicine/science is unscientific and risks centuries of experience and wisdom.
  8. Consumers should have significant freedom of choice in health care. Understandable and clear information about potential benefits and risks, as well as an exploration of the costs (financial and otherwise) is necessary for good decision-making.
  9. Self-serving thinking leads to hypocrisy. Special attention is needed when an argument for patient protection creates an economic benefit for particular providers.
  10. Simple, easily learned treatments can be effective and safe.
  11. There is the potential for growth and success within the acupuncture/OM profession.
  12. Many acupuncture programs do not provide sufficient or accurate information about post-graduation life and do a poor job of teaching business skills. This can be changed easily and inexpensively.
  13. The financial and karmic ROI (Return on Investment) of positively promoting our profession is superior to that of engaging in political/regulatory battles with others.
  14. The future of the medicine and of the profession are interconnected but not identical.
  15. Thoughtful and respectful analysis can identify areas of common ground.
  16. Focusing on areas of common ground decreases factionalism, and builds unity, understanding, and participation.
  17. The profession lacks venues for respectful dialogue on these issues. As a result, many scholars and potential leaders within the profession avoid involvement.

Do we agree on some of these? Can respectful dialogue increase the areas of agreement? What if we read the Tao Te Ching, the I Ching, and The Art of War first? What if we go deeper than our Wei level response to some of these issues? I believe it is possible that we’ll be able to find a new path forward, one we can walk together, with our hair flowing free. After all, I’m an acupuncturist.

Acupuncture & Insurance, Part 2 — Affordability

Many of us see it as a no-brainer. We want acupuncture to be affordable, insurance/Medicare makes it affordable, how could anyone be against that? This reasoning relies upon a superficial understanding of health care costs and affordability.

Consider:

  • Affordability must take into account premiums as well as co-pays and out-of-pocket expenses.
  • Both cost to the individual and sustainability of the system are part of affordability.
  • All medical costs are ultimately borne by the public.
  • When coverage is provided for the very sick, the premiums of many healthy people contribute to their medical expenses.
  • If health care spending exceeds what the insurance companies have planned for, premiums will go up and reimbursements for providers will go down.
  • Controlling health care spending depends upon providers accepting reduced payment for their services and upon a bureaucracy determining what services are appropriate.
  • The wealthiest in our system typically have the best insurance coverage.

A respected colleague said I give the impression that Community Acupuncture is the only way for people to get affordable acupuncture and that everyone should treat that way. My bad — I don’t believe that. I do believe it is a good way — it accepts the reality that acupuncture isn’t really more affordable if it doesn’t cost the system less. It provides affordable treatment to everyone, not just to those with the best insurance coverage. And it keeps big business out of treatment decisions.

I continue to treat one client at a time, in a private room. I have a generous sliding scale, available to all, to help a wide range of people afford acupuncture.  Some practitioners treat in private rooms and charge one low price to all patients. I have colleagues who reserve a certain percentage of their appointments for those who need steeply discounted services, and I have others who volunteer in free or low-cost clinics. These are all ways to make acupuncture affordable.

Disguising the cost of acupuncture by hiding the expense in co-pays and premiums (many so expensive that they are subsidized by taxpayers) doesn’t make it more affordable. Changing the way you treat so that your reimbursements match what you think you deserve doesn’t make acupuncture more affordable (or support arguments for cost effectiveness).

CA is not the only way to make acupuncture affordable and I certainly don’t think it is the only style of treatment that should be available.  But insurance increases the big picture affordability of acupuncture only to the extent that it limits reimbursement rates and access.  Insurance is not a magic wand, and those practitioners who believe it is are in for a rude surprise.

For more, check out this post, and these statistics about the increases in health care spending in the US.

LAcs = Tea Party & Acupuncture Today = Fox News?

The threat to acupuncture from dry needling is like the threat to “traditional” marriage from gay marriage. That is, the real threat is our obsession with the issue and our willingness to make any argument, no matter how ridiculous, to keep people from connecting with the provider of their choice.

Despite thousands of years of experience and a big head-start, we didn’t establish ourselves as the undisputed experts of this method of pain relief. Having failed to convince the PT Boards that PT’s performing dry needling is a danger to the public, or that LAcs should get to determine the appropriate training for this technique, we are now arguing that we’ll accept it, as long as it hurts.

The November 2013 issue of AcupunctureToday included Dry Needling: Averting a Crisis for the Profession, here is my response to AT —

Dr. Amaro’s “obvious solution” to Dry Needling, that PT’s be judicially mandated to use a hypodermic needle, is awful. Has it come to this? Despite our 2,000+ year head-start our plan for success is to require other providers to use a tool that causes tissue damage and pain? There is no non-political reason for a board to require its licensees to use an unnecessarily harmful tool. To present it as a possibility is an embarrassment to the profession.

While some auto insurance and worker’s compensation will reimburse for dry needling, for the most part Trigger Point Dry Needling is not a billable service when performed by a physical therapist. It is considered “experimental and unproven” by Medicare and major medical insurance companies. And, if it were true that PT’s were getting rich on reimbursements for this technique, is that an argument against allowing them to perform an effective procedure? Don’t we support people getting relief from pain, regardless of who is paying the bill?

It would be tragic if we were successful in requiring everyone using a filiform needle to use the term acupuncture while losing the battle to prevent non-LAcs from performing the technique. Given various rulings of state AG’s, and of the regulatory boards responsible for other professions, this is a strong possibility. Then, we will have lost our ability to distinguish what we do from what others do. (And, ironically, would help PT’s obtain reimbursement.)

We had decades to establish ourselves as the experts in this technique. We didn’t, and, frankly, many of us are unpracticed with it and uninterested in making it a major part of our clinic offerings.  Addressing unfair reimbursement scenarios is reasonable. Respectfully presenting evidence-based concerns about risks to the public is part of our civic duty. Our ongoing panicked response to TPDN, with arguments based on misinformation or a misunderstanding of such basic topics as scope and the regulatory process, culminating in the argument in Acupuncture Today – that it’s okay as long as it hurts –  is the real threat to our reputation and our future.

I encourage you to read all of my posts on this topic (you can get them via the categories or tags on the homepage) and on scope of practice. It is time for the acupuncture profession to stop shooting itself in the foot.

Please support discrimination?!?

Another entry in our Hypocrites with Double Standards (HWDS) files?

I’ve been reading about the importance of Section 2706 of the Affordable Care Act for our profession. It wouldn’t be right for insurance companies to cover acupuncture only if performed by an MD, right? The concerns within our community, according to the press, are that the section might be undermined by the actions of the AMA (this makes us angry!) or not strongly enforced.

Okay, non-discrimination good.

Wait a second — AOMSM, the Massachusetts acupuncture association, is pushing legislation that discriminates.  Section 7 of S1107 and H2021 reads “The use of needles on trigger points, Ashi points, and/or for intramuscular needling for the treatment of myofascial pain will be considered the practice of acupuncture” (does it matter what type of needles?) and Section 8 reads “Only licensed acupuncturists or medical doctors shall be reimbursed for acupuncture services.” Is anyone surprised that “political agents for PTs in MA have taken measures to prevent “An Act Relative to the Practice of Acupuncture” from advancing”?

So — discrimination is good if it works in my favor, bad if it works against me?  How does this reflect on our profession and the future of integrated health? Not well, in my opinion.  What do you think?

Dry Needling, Herbs, and Scope — How to Regulate a Profession

A regulatory Board is contacted.  Your licensees are doing X, that isn’t (or, is that?) in your scope.

Ask a PT Board about Dry Needling and the answer usually goes something like this — We trust our licensees. Many learn this technique and it helps their clients. We find room in our regulation to include this in our scope.  We have a few concerns and suggest that those who want to utilize this technique have some additional training and take additional precautions. Our existing system for addressing unsafe practice is sufficient to address risk to the public.

Ask an Acupuncture Board or organization about herbs and the answer usually goes like this. We are being threatened again!  We’d better legislate, and fast! Help! Thanks NCCAOM and schools. We are so grateful for your efforts to ensure that any acupuncturist who wants to utilize this dangerous aspect of our medicine add your $20,000 education and your formal $800.00 seal of approval to their already extensive education and credentials. In fact, in the name of raising standards we should require that from all LAcs. It might prevent some of our most qualified practitioners from practice, but, hey, it is a step toward getting the respect we deserve.

Is something wrong with this picture?

It’s a radical idea, but how about we respect ourselves. Let’s recognize the safety of our medicine and the depth of our education.  Let’s trust our colleagues’ professional judgement and open doors rather than close them and let’s stop deferring to those who profit from our love of this medicine.

For additional reading, check out an example.  In this case, I agree with Dr. Morris when he wrote,

To avoid conflicts of interest, no individual who stands to profit from seminars should determine competencies and educational standards, nor should they testify in legislature on behalf of the common good.

(Of course, he was talking about the PT’s when he wrote it, so maybe in this case he doesn’t agree with himself.)

You have until Monday, 9/30, to comment on the NCCAOM’s “proposals.” Does the current CEU arrangement put the public at risk? Are the states incapable of effective regulation?

One more thing — during the great FPD debate, many expressed concern that once the degree was available the NCCAOM could, by fiat, require it for entry level practice. We were assured that would be impossible. Informed by history, it seems very possible indeed.

Making a Difference, in ten steps.

  1. Write a letter to the Delaware Acupuncture Advisory Council, and mail it by this Friday, August 23rd. Here is a new, improved template!  Do this now! (Please cc Gayle MacAfee at the board and send a copy to de@theacupunctureobserver.com. Thanks!)
  2. Share this post on facebook.
  3. Tune in. Subscribing to this blog is a good start but I can’t keep track of everything. Check in at websites for the AAAOM, NCCAOM, ACAOM, your state association, POCA, etc.  A few current issues (which I’ll be posting more about soon) — AAAOM is calling for public comment by August 31st on draft legislation, NCCAOM wants public comment on proposed changes by September 30th, ASVA (Acupuncture Society of Virginia) is having a town hall October 19th to discuss possible changes to scope, and the IHPC wants us to stay involved regarding implementation of section 2706 of the Affordable Care Act. Any one of these issues could impact your ability to practice.
  4. Question Authority. Is X really the biggest problem facing the profession? Is the public better off in a state that requires the OM certification rather than the AC certification? Is an independent board better for acupuncturists? Will an FPD degree lead to greater respect? Does scope mean what you think?
  5. Know the system. For example, boards can only regulate their own licensees. And the executive branch doesn’t determine what Medicare covers, regardless of how many signatures are on a petition.
  6. Avoid us/them thinking. In Our Worst Enemy I wrote about the practitioners in focused on increasing standards as a “them.” That was a mistake.
  7. Remember, we are all in this together. What happens in another state or a change that seems to impact only new students or new licensees might end up affecting you in unforeseen ways.
  8. Assume good intentions. Assuming bad intentions (the PT’s want to do dry needling to make money, for example) doesn’t lead to productive dialogue.
  9. Be consistent. Do we support the right of people to choose their healthcare provider? Are herbs safe? Is acupuncture safe? When we change our answers to these questions based on the circumstances we create a negative impression.
  10. Learn from history. Has participation in  health insurance been good or bad for healthcare? For providers? Has a standardized system of Chinese Medicine led to greater effectiveness?

In the short run it is easier to ignore the big issues, to figure you’ll be okay, or to decide you can’t really make a difference. Staying involved takes time and energy you’d rather use to see clients or spend time with your family or learn that new technique. Do it anyway. Tune in, question, participate. The future you save may be your own.

You Can Make a Difference

Many LAcs do their best to ignore the “politics” of acupuncture. The experience of participating in professional dialogue can be disheartening and discouraging. It isn’t easy to participate even when we want to — things are happening at the state level, with schools and ACAOM (the coming FPD), or with credentialing (proposed changes at NCCAOM), for example. All too often the debate gets heated and divisive. It is hard to get the whole story and figure out the possible consequences of a change or know what action might be effective. When the licensure legislation was developing in DE few outside of the state were involved. Some of my colleagues in DE had concerns, but they eventually gave up what felt like a fight for a better bill.

Five years after the DE legislation went into effect, there are approximately 35 LAcs serving a population of over 900,000 people and many of those practitioners were either grandfathered in or granted a waiver. Two years went by without a single non-waivered approval. Clearly, the legislation is not giving the people of DE access to qualified LAcs. As I wrote about in my last post, I know of two excellent practitioners who have recently been denied licensure even though their credentials surpass those of many practitioners in the state.

In the long run, the Delaware legislation should be changed. Rules that exclude the majority of NCCAOM credentialed Acupuncturists make no sense, especially when acupuncture can be done by other professionals with far less training. In the short run, the Acupuncture Advisory Council should acknowledge the record of safety of NCCAOM AC practitioners and consistently grant waivers to those with that credential.  In the very short term, the Council should grant waivers to Virginia LAc Sharon Crowell and Maryland LAc Sue Berman.  To facilitate those short term goals I ask that all of you write to the Acupuncture Advisory Council expressing your support of such a waiver.  Please mail your letters by August 22nd!  Feel free to post a copy of your letter in the comments section to inspire others. Email a copy to de@theacupunctureobserver.com. That will help if further action is necessary.

You can see the letter I sent (and borrow from it if appropriate) —  DE Observer Letter.  I’ve also generated a DE LAc sample letter that you can personalize. You could add some of these Possible concerns or your own concerns (please share any additional concerns in the blog comments). The letter can be modified for clients or others who are interested. If you’d like an excuse to visit Dover, DE, the next Advisory Council meeting is September 12th. It should be lovely at that time of year – but don’t count on being able to find an LAc in town :).

 

To Wit, Hypocrites with Double Standards?

This will be it (I hope) regarding dry needling for a while.  Just these last few points which are pertinent to other discussions.

Will Morris concluded his AT article with this  — “To wit: let us pursue a collaborative process of developing inter-professional competencies. Remove biomedicine and herbal medicine courses from the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM) standards. Then, take what is left over in acupuncture programs as the starting place for a dialogue for portable competencies….To avoid conflicts of interest, no individual who stands to profit from seminars should determine competencies and educational standards, nor should they testify in legislature on behalf of the common good.”

My comments  –

1)    Collaborative processes don’t start with a one-sided statement of the starting point.

2)      Why stop with removing only biomedicine and herbal medicine from the ACAOM standards?  An incomplete list of things I was taught in my ACAOM accredited program that seem unnecessary for the education of a licensed PT who wants to use an acupuncture needle to stimulate a trigger point: tai chi, qi gong, pulse diagnosis, tongue diagnosis, point location, point indications, the officials, the five elements, business development, TCM principles, and the Classics. I have yet to find a colleague who could come up with more than 40 hours of content – Day 1: contraindications, risk factors, areas in the vicinity of forbidden points, reasons to refer.  Day 2: Clean needle technique, Day 3-5: Needle technique, practice and a review of reasons to refer. Seems like anything more and we are encouraging these practitioners to move beyond trigger point release.

4)      As a member of a regulatory board, I believe it is important to hear from educators when exploring issues of scope, or really, any issue. On the other hand, when NCCAOM sent two representatives to a Virginia board meeting to explain why requiring licensees to maintain current NCCAOM Diplomate status was critical to protect the public I did feel it was self-serving. So, to those making this argument, will you agree to it across the board? If there is any exploration about licensure requirements for LAcs will the schools, NCCAOM, ACAOM, and any other organization that “stands to profit” keep silent on behalf of the common good?  Some may say this violates the First Amendment, but as long as everyone agrees to abide by this limitation, I’m willing to give it a try.

A Rose, Redux!

Again, there has been an issue with my last post not being sent to subscribers or showing up on the media sites.  Because I want community feedback before posting part 2 I’m hoping this attempt will fly through cyberspace as intended.  Thanks for your patience.

A Rose?

I would love to leave the TPDN/Dry Needling issue behind. I also believe that if we explore why what we’ve been doing hasn’t been working we’ll end up empowered rather than defeated.

Many colleagues have been referring to this Will Morris article in AT. I hope you’ll bear with more frequent posts over the next few days as we spend some time pondering his points.

A question for the community – is a key factor here the use of an acupuncture needle?

When an MD injects cortisone into a sore spot, is that acupuncture?  Is a vaccination acupuncture? What if a syringe is used to draw fluid out of an area – is that acupuncture?  Is the injection therapy done by some LAcs acupuncture? What about use of a tuning fork or a laser at a point – is that acupuncture?

What about the use of an empty hypodermic needle to stimulate a sore spot?  At what point does the use of a syringe become acupuncture? Or, is the use of the filiform needle the thing that makes a procedure acupuncture?

I’ll see if you have any input before I share my thoughts.