Professional Harmony, Professional Growth

Acupuncturists know that good health isn’t acquired by attacking invaders. Instead, we advocate living in balance with our environment to develop a strong, self-reliant, vessel. We are healthy when our system excludes threats without our even being aware of them.

As individuals, most of us practice (most of the time) what we preach. We strive for balance.

As a profession, though, we’ve chased the equivalents of miracle cures, mega-antibiotics, and the promises of “experts.” Like our clients who seek well-being that way, we are tired and struggle to maintain our tenuous health.

What if practitioners, schools, organizations, regulators, and credentialing agencies saved the energy and money that went to filing lawsuits against PT’s, (and having to defend ourselves when we are sued in return), establishing new degrees, and changing state regulations to require more training and exams? What if, instead, they identified the minimal standard necessary to practice safely and effectively and committed to work, state by state, to establish that standard as sufficient for licensure? What if we took as a guiding principle and goal that an acupuncture license in one state, and a history of safe practice, should be sufficient for licensure in any state?

Other professions are doing this. PT’s, Nurses, and MD’s are all working to make it easier for practitioners to relocate. Even lawyers can be “waived” into a state based on prior experience. These professionals don’t have to start school wondering whether their degree will be sufficient. A family move doesn’t mean giving up a career.

Acupuncture school is a risky investment, especially when requirements for licensure vary widely and change regularly.

Unlike our other battles, moving toward standardization (of licensure NOT lineage), doesn’t require convincing any judge or insurance company of our position or value. We hold the power to create a system that supports acupuncture professionals and serves the public.

It shouldn’t be difficult. It will be. We are better at vehemently disagreeing and walking away than we are at overcoming differences and finding compromise.

Both herbal credentialing and the FPD degrees were enacted despite concerns we now know were prescient.The ACAOM-sponsored DELPHI process (to establish degree titles), an after-the fact attempt to address some of those concerns, is moving forward, but not without challenges.

We lack an organization for regulators. This increases the tendency for states go their own way, and will make coming together even more difficult. Too often regulators have focused on their personal visions for the profession rather than serving the public. Many of them also sit on the boards of, or work for, acupuncture schools, raising the potential for conflicts of interest.

We could overcome these challenges. We could focus on the benefits and commit to sticking together. We could ensure the public can access Acupuncturists when they want acupuncture. We’ve spent enough on the antibiotics of legal action and the miracle cures of being Doctors and pursuing third-party payment. Now we need to focus on establishing common ground and common requirements, building our strength and our stamina. That would be a huge step toward good health for the profession.

 

 

A Day in the Life…..of an Acupuncturist

What do you do at work?

How much of your day is spent in conversation with your clients, and how much is spent needling?

How do you decide where to put the needles? Do you rely on pulses, or tongue diagnosis, the patient’s report of the pain, what your acu-graph tells you?

Do you spend a lot of time prepping herbs? Or no time at all?

Do you have staff that helps with scheduling and treating, or do you do it all yourself?

Do you change your linens and do your own laundry?

Do you bill insurance?

How many patients do you see in a day or week? Do you have multiple locations? Do you treat differently depending on the location?

Describe your practice location(s) or setting(s).

Do you work with other Acupuncturists? Other health care providers?

Do you do lots of moxa, cupping, gua sha, e-stim, hand acupuncture, scalp acupuncture, tui na?

Do you talk to your patients about how they can support their health when they’re not in the treatment room?

Is there something that’s been incredibly important to your practice that you didn’t learn in acupuncture school? Are there things you spent tons of time on in school that you never use now?

Do you do your own bookkeeping?

Do you read journal articles or historical works about the profession on a regular basis?

How long have you been in practice and how much has your style of practice changed between now and when you started out?

Do you have a good understanding of the rules and regulations that govern your practice? How did you find out about those rules and regulations?

I’m doing some research about the profession and I’d like to hear from as many practitioners as possible. The questions above are just to give you some ideas of things to think about. You could keep track of what you do all day long – how many times do you review pharmaceuticals? How often do you consult with colleagues on a tricky case? How many times do you wash your hands?

Please, share your list of everything you do in a day at your practice, and how often you do it, in the comment section. Or, you can use the contact form.

Spread the word on Facebook. The more the merrier. However, please ask people NOT to reply via Facebook comment. They are hard to collect, and I don’t have access to all groups.

Thanks for your help. We’re a diverse profession and I’d like to learn more about just how much we share, and how much we differ.

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Acupuncture Education 2015 – The State of the Profession

If we want people who want acupuncture to receive it from an Acupuncturist, acupuncture education deserves our attention.

There aren’t good statistics on how many Acupuncturists or acupuncture students there are in the US. But those handy maps printed in Acupuncture Today can give us some idea. The December 2013 issue (with an article on AT’s unprecedented growth) showed 24,342 Acupuncturist and 3,124 student issues mailed. In December 2015 – 24,231 Acupuncturist and 2,624 student issues mailed. That’s not growth. The 2014 NCCAOM Annual Report (the most recent available) also reveals – we are not a growing profession.

There is a lot of churn in Acupuncture education — schools close, schools open, programs merge, new degree programs are established. New Gainful employment rules adopted in late 2014 may well contribute to that churn. They require for-profit schools (about 50% of acupuncture programs) to provide at least some debt and jobs data to prospective students.

Small class sizes can skew the data. Still, check out these reports (selected because they came up first in Google): Emperors, ACAOM (the school not the agency), Arizona School of AOM, Midwest, AIAM, and Colorado School of TCM.

Only two schools reported job placement, at 50% and 67%. Median loan amount (omitting a 1.5 million figure given by Midwest that must be a mistake) ranged from 17K to 72K. A real eye opener was the percentage of students completing the program in the expected time frame. The average across all 6 programs was 55%. Omit the 100% reported by Arizona, currently on probation with ACAOM (the agency), and it’s 46%.

It’s not encouraging. Add student uncertainty that the degree they obtain will enable them to practice and it is no surprise our profession isn’t growing.

Imagine if we could tell prospective practitioners –  “A Master’s Degree in Acupuncture from any ACAOM accredited program will fulfill the educational requirements to practice in any state.”

I may not love the ACAOM standards but I’ll accept them to help the profession. Is there a downside to offset the upside?

NGAOM you have a stated goal of establishing uniform standards, yet are fighting to keep California schools out of the ACAOM system. Please explain.

We had some significant losses in Acupuncture education in 2015.

Spring brought news that Dianne Connolly and Bob and Susan Duggan would no longer teach or be part of the program at MUIH (which Bob and Dianne founded in 1974 as The Maryland College of Chinese Acupuncture). Bob and Dianne are part of the foundation of this medicine in the US. They profoundly influenced my acupuncture journey and it is a significant loss that they won’t be part of every MUIH student’s education. I am glad they are continuing to teach and share their wisdom in other settings.

Bob Duggan played an integral role in establishing acupuncture standards, credentials, agencies, and commissions. His goal in so doing was to enable this safe and effective medicine to be legally available to more people. He shared in a personal communication his ambivalence at how things turned out – that though his work enabled so many people to be healers and to be healed, “If I had real courage I’d have gone to jail and insisted this was the people’s medicine and we shouldn’t allow it to be professionalized.”

2015 closed with another loss, the death of Dr. Richard Teh-Fu Tan. Dr. Tan was an excellent teacher, deeply committed to teaching. Directly, and through his students, he eased the suffering of countless patients. Dr. Tan made no secret of his doubts about the caliber of acupuncture education most of his students received in their degree programs. Many seminar attendees reported learning more about effective acupuncture in four days with Dr. Tan than in four years of acupuncture school.

Attention must be paid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Act Now – Help the Acupuncture Profession With Sensible Regulation

We have a little more than a week to influence regulations that will impact our profession. The regulatory and legislative process typically includes long periods of incremental movement suddenly replaced by small windows of major activity. One of those windows is open in the District of Columbia, but only until December 26th.

The proposed regulations are especially important because Washington DC is the seat of our Federal Government. If Acupuncturists hope to influence policy at that level we’ll need a strong community of practitioners, the more experienced the better, ready to serve in our governmental agencies.

The good news is that a small group of practitioners worked diligently to move the regulatory activity in a positive direction over the past three years. The bad news is that amidst the positive proposed changes are a few problematic sections. The additional bad news is that we are now late in the process. But maybe not too late. It would be good for the profession and for individual practitioners if we were able to correct those problematic sections. Let’s try.

You can see the text of the new regulations here. Comment by clicking on the blue “Make Comment” box at the bottom of the page (the tab at the top doesn’t seem to work). The comment form will only accept 500 characters, which meant a boatload of editing and three separate comments for me. Feel free to borrow my Three Issues DC2 language for your comments.

In addition, I’ve sent this Dear NCCAOM letter to Mina Larson, (MLarson@thenccaom.org) and Kory Ward-Cook (kwardcook@thenccaom.org) asking for their assistance. Again, the more letters the better. Feel free to use my letter as a template.

Remember, a regulatory change anywhere sets a precedent for changes everywhere. If we want people to get their acupuncture from LAcs, we need to remove obstacles to licensure. Please submit comments and share this post with other’s who would like to weigh in. It doesn’t cost anything except a little bit of time. Imagine what we could do if we took the energy and funds used to battle other professions and focused more on improving our own situation.

I limited my comments to the issues I consider most problematic and easiest to correct.

As I discussed in this post, these regulations will impact us all. Some of our colleagues thought it best to keep these proposed changes from the greater community, and that’s a shame. We need to be in the loop. The more we know, the more we can do to bring about positive change.

 

9 Reasons why Acupuncture Regulations There Matter Here!

Changes in acupuncture regulation in any state matter to each of us individually, and to the profession as a whole.

Here are 9 reasons why —

  • We don’t know what the future holds. Unexpected moves happen.
  • You may need to hire practitioners or sell your practice. Can interested parties easily move to your state?
  • Your patients might move and want a practitioner just like you. Will one be available?
  • Growth in the profession is not keeping up with demand. Regulatory uncertainty diminishes the appeal of the profession.
  • High educational and credentialing costs interfere with business growth. If the requirements vary from state to state, the impact is multiplied. (See this report on Occupational Licensing.)
  • Regulatory differences lead to divisions within the profession. With fewer than 25k acupuncturists in the US unity is critical.
  • What happens in one state impacts every state. States look at what has happened elsewhere when considering regulatory changes.
  • Changes in one state can lead to changes for everyone. When CA increased required educational hours every school and ACAOM soon changed as well.
  • Different regulations, training requirements, and titles make it difficult to educate the public about our qualifications, draw contrasts with other professionals, or advocate for our profession as a whole.

Staying informed is not easy. Neither is getting involved. We are all busy, we don’t always know how to assess the pros and cons of a possible change, and things can get heated and unpleasant when there are differences of opinion.

And, the future of our profession and our businesses is greatly impacted by regulatory changes – even those happening across the country.

Please, stay involved.

Forgive two posts in quick succession, but regulatory changes are on the way. You’ll hear from me again soon.

(Note — I advocate for standardizing and simplifying the regulatory process for acupuncture licensure. I am not advocating for standardizing the medicine itself. Our diversity is powerful indeed.)

Herbal Regulation and the Acupuncture Profession – A Better Way.

We’ve got competition. PT’s, MD’s, and DC’s are excited about filiform needles and LAcs are freaking out.

While our energy has been focused on that competition (our training and skills are superior, right?) we haven’t been paying attention to increasing restrictions on our ability to practice the fullness of our medicine. Adding insult to injury, the restrictions on practice are “coming from inside the house.”

I’m talking about restrictions on our use of herbs.

Yes, herbal medicine is powerful and complex and carries both potential risk and potential benefit. Yes, it takes many thousands of hours to come close to mastery of this branch of our medicine. Yes, people have been harmed by the improper use of herbs and supplements. And, yes, at some point the damage done by the misuse of herbs may result in stricter regulation. We may indeed lose access to more herbs.

It’s good that we want to be proactive, protecting the public and the profession from harm. It’s not so good if our actions don’t have the desired result. And not good at all if our actions increase risk to the public and the profession.

Let’s consider the terrain —

  • What portion of harm from herbs/supplements is the result of poor practice by Acupuncturists?
  • What portion of harm from herbs is from the use of raw herbs, what portion is from pre-made herbal formulas?
  • Does preventing certain LAcs from recommending herbs or supplements limit public access to these products?
  • Is the average LAc, even without herbal training, likely to have a positive or negative impact on client’s proper use of herbs and supplements?
  • Which are better tailored to the individualized treatment that is a hallmark of Chinese Medicine — pre-made/patent formulas or raw herbs?
  • Which are more likely to be contaminated with banned substances or prescription medicine – patent formulas or raw herbs?
  • Is it possible to draw a bright line between dietary therapy and herbal therapy?
  • Does limiting LAc recommendation of herbs interfere with the ability of other health care providers or salespeople to recommend or sell herbs or supplements?

See where I am going with this?

Anyone can get Chinese herbs, even dangerous ones. Increasing the regulatory burden on Acupuncturists would make sense if it would protect the public or our access to the full pharmacopoeia on an ongoing basis. It would make sense if LAcs were routinely endangering the public through unregulated use of herbs.

It doesn’t make sense for a subset of our profession to become the only group of health professionals not able to recommend herbs to their clients.

If the only groups weighing in are the schools and NCCAOM, formal (and expensive) training and credentialing will be increasingly required.

Let’s stand united against unnecessary restrictions. LAcs have an excellent safety record. Stay tuned for real-time developments and your opportunity to weigh in on the regulation of herbal medicine for Acupuncturists.

 

How we Grow – The Acupuncture Profession in 2015

One Physician per 371 non-institutionalized civilians was the US average in 2012.

One Acupuncturist per 20,000 non-institutionalized civilians was the US average in 2014.

NCCAOM’s 2014 Annual Report is an important read for anyone who cares about Acupuncture in the US. From it we learn:

  • Applications for certifications dropped from 1744 in 2013 to 1494 in 2014.
  • The number of new certifications dropped from 1144 in 2013 to 972 in 2014.
  • 532 of those new certifications were in Oriental Medicine. Another 16 were for Chinese Herbology (likely existing LAcs choosing or being required to add the Herb certification).

I don’t know how many practitioners are leaving the profession, but many of my peers who were licensed 20+ years ago are stepping back from active practice.

Several current initiatives, including HR 3849 and state-level efforts to mandate insurance coverage of acupuncture would increase demand for acupuncture. (There are 49,435,610 Medicare beneficiaries in the US and 5.5 million Gulf War Vets.) If fully trained Acupuncturists aren’t able to meet the demand, who will provide those services?

At this rate, how long will it take to grow the profession to even one Acupuncturist per 2000 people?

Shouldn’t we focus on that?

I’m baffled. We’ve sued, signed petitions, and marched in the street, all to try to stop the “greatest threat to our profession” – other professions wanting to use the acupuncture needle.

But there’s been silence, or even approval, when Florida (with one DOM for every 17,760 people) changed their regulations in 2014 to require all 4 NCCAOM exams for licensure. Ditto in NJ where new practitioners will need the NCCAOM herb exam to use herbs in their practice. (How many citizens had been harmed by use of herbs by practitioners without the herbal credential? Was regulation needed?) In Nevada (approximately 1 Acupuncturist for every 47,000 citizens) the Board of Oriental Medicine is moving to require a DAOM of all licensees. Meanwhile, many insurance plans are limiting their provider pool to those with active NCCAOM certification, even in states that don’t require that credential. (After all, the vision of the NCCAOM is that “Acupuncture and Oriental medicine provided by NCCAOM credentialed practitioners [emphasis mine] will be integral to healthcare….”)

If we want the public to obtain services from well-trained Acupuncturists we need to make sure providers are available. One thousand new practitioners a year and growing self-inflicted restrictions on where and how we can practice aren’t going to do it.

The greatest threat to our future is an Acupuncture workforce insufficient to meet demand or effectively advocate for ourselves. Allowing or supporting credential creep, educational bloat, and practice restrictions are sowing the seeds of our demise.

Can we please focus on growing our profession?

 

Demographic Information From:

Acupuncture Today Density Map

Physician Data

Population Data

Medicare Data

Veteran Data

November ’15 Acupuncture News Update, Chapter 1

It isn’t easy keeping up with Acupuncture News. Now and then a “clear the decks” post (or two, or three) is needed. Here goes:

HR 3849: Representative Judy Chu (CA) introduced “The Heroes and Seniors Act ” which would add acupuncturist services to Medicare and would increase the availability of acupuncture to members of the military and Veterans. The bill has a long list of endorsing organizations. Supporters should share their analysis of what would happen in the twenty states with fewer than 100 LAcs*. In a business with competitors, creating demand for a service without the ability to provide it is a bad move.  I’d be more worried if I didn’t agree with govtrack.us – there is a 0% chance of the bill being enacted.

Dry Needling: In late September the North Carolina Acupuncture Licensing Board filed a complaint in the General Court of Justice against the North Carolina Board of Physical Therapy Examiners, asking the court, among other things, to declare dry needling the unlawful practice of acupuncture. In early October the North Carolina Board of Physical Therapy filed their counter suit in US District Court seeking triple damages for the NCALB’s illegal and anticompetitive acts. Not surprisingly the same LAcs who cheered on the NCALB suit were outraged that the NCPTE would return fire. Given the SCOTUS ruling from this past year I believe the acupuncture community is in a risky place. If the PT’s prevail it will be a game changer nationwide. Did the AG’s office (which had previously ruled that Dry Needling could be within PT scope) advise the NCALB on their complaint? Are all North Carolina Licensees picking up the legal tab for what looks like outside counsel?

In other news the acupuncture community has been touting the revised AAMA Policy on Dry Needling. The Middle Eastern saying “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” comes to mind. It’s a strategy that can win battles, and can create more of them. I don’t think of Medical Acupuncturists or PT’s as enemies. I do remember our insistence that the 200 (or 300?) hour training of the MD Acupuncturists is insufficient. And I wonder whether the PT’s could increase their training to 200 (or 300?) hours and then argue that all of acupuncture is open to them.

Nevada: The minutes of the November 5th Nevada Board of Oriental Medicine haven’t yet been posted, but I understand from attendees that the Board is planning to hire legal counsel, the cost of which will fall on existing licensees. Why does the Board need to hire legal counsel? Because they continue to pursue actions that go against existing code and legislation, rejecting the counsel of the Attorney General’s office. The news from Nevada is a reminder that having an independent acupuncture board isn’t necessarily great for the public or the profession.

Looks like there will be at least one more “Clear the Decks” post. Coming soon  – news about: acupuncture and insurance, NCCAOM’s annual report and more, ACAOM’s hot news, regulation in the District of Columbia, Lamar Odom and the future of herbal regulation, and what’s happening in the AAAOM.

 

* I use LAc to refer to all professionals holding the proper government license to provide primarily acupuncture and TCM services. Having no clear way to refer to, define, or describe this group of individuals is representative of our challenges!

NCCAOM Code of Ethics & Grounds for Professional Discipline

The NCCAOM is preparing to update the Code of Ethics and Grounds for Professional Discipline and is asking for input. Informed comment requires not only a review of the documents, but also an understanding of the role of the organization.

The path to become an MD in the US is straightforward. Go to college and medical school, sit the licensing exams, complete a residency, apply to a state regulatory board, and, if desired, obtain a board certification in a specialty.  (It is not necessary to be board certified to become a licensed medical doctor, and it is not possible to become an m.d. without successful completion of the licensing exams.)

When the NCCAOM (then the NCCA) was established in 1982 few states had formal licensure. Rigorous credentialing was thought necessary to gain acceptance by the medical establishment. Having a group supported by the profession to ease the regulatory burden on states regarding this new profession was also helpful. Some states weren’t (and still aren’t) at all interested in licensing acupuncturists. In those states, a formal credential to attest to an ongoing fitness to practice was appealing.

But conflict in the early days of the profession, both within the community and from the outside led to disparate paths to practice. There was disagreement about how to test and evaluate the huge knowledge base and varied traditions of the medicine, and how much power to give to any one group. Additionally, the political climate in the various jurisdictions differed greatly.

The NCCAOM‘s official role is to validate “entry-level competency in the practice of acupuncture and Oriental Medicine through professional certification.” But, the NCCAOM is really a chimera, a hybrid, due to the factors mentioned above. It has become a quasi-regulatory agency in some states, establishing practice standards and acting as a disciplinary agency. In other ways it is more like a specialty board — attesting to a particularly high level of qualification (but not exactly, since some states require NCCAOM certification for entry level practice). And, the ongoing weakness and dysfunction of the AAAOM (I’m still waiting on membership numbers, but the practitioner search function reveals the weakness) has led the NCCAOM to fill promotional needs and provide professional support, roles typically handled by professional organizations.

So, does the Code of Ethics and Grounds for Professional Discipline support the NCCAOM’s role of validating entry-level competence? Should it fill the role of a regulatory agency with control over whether or not individuals can obtain or maintain their license? Should it uphold a particularly high standard of practice, suitable for a selected subset of practitioners? Should it fulfill a PR need for the profession? These all need to be considered as we get ready to provide feedback to the NCCAOM.

The NCCAOM has requested input by September 12th.  In part II of this post, coming soon, I’ll share more background information and provide my own thoughts about the documents. I look forward to hearing what you think about the documents and encourage all of us to offer input by September 12th.