It’s Like Herding Cats

It’s a common refrain about reaching consensus in the acupuncture profession. But why try to herd cats? I learned a long time ago that opening a can of tuna would bring kitty running.

If there were an attainable action that would:

  • Increase patient access to Licensed Acupuncturists,
  • Assist in national marketing for the profession,
  • Decrease educational costs and student debt,
  • Decrease licensing expenses,
  • Increase political power,
  • Expand professional opportunities, flexibility, and mobility, and,
  • Increase the value of your practice,

Would that be like tuna to a kitty?

(Whirrr of can opener)

Tuna for me = Identifying the least restrictive licensure requirements necessary to protect the public and create successful practitioners and working to establish that as a standard in all states.

Before panic ensues, consider some of the situations I’ve heard about in the past few years:

  • Highly experienced and qualified LAcs unable to obtain licensure, even in states where there are so few LAcs that the public has little choice but to get their acupuncture treatment from Chiropractors.
  • Practitioners who want to sell their practices but have a limited pool of buyers because of the unique licensure requirements in their state.
  • Practitioners travelling many, many hours in order to practice, or leaving the profession, because life has taken them to a state in which they can’t obtain a license.
  • Practitioners and students who have no interest in using herbs being required to spend tens of thousands of dollars and thousands of hours learning herbal medicine in order to obtain an acupuncture license.
  • Acupuncturists supporting discriminatory laws or regulations such that the only group of people in a state who can not practice herbal medicine are other Acupuncturists.
  • Practitioners having to maintain licenses in multiple states because changing regulations mean that if they give up a license they will be unable to obtain it in that state again.
  • Acupuncturists being unable to advance reasonable state or national legislation because restrictive practices keep practitioner numbers so low that political support is unavailable.
  • The profession being unable to effectively educate the public about their excellent education and credentials because those credentials vary so much from state to state.
  • Acupuncturists struggling to build a practice in overserved areas, but unable to obtain licensure in nearby underserved areas.
  • Acupuncture organizations fighting for inclusion in managed care and federal health programs, even though many states have too few LAcs to serve the population. (Demographic data can be found at these links: Acupuncture Today LAc Map, US Population, Physicians per State.)

The current system in which some states require graduation from particular schools, others have their own exams, and others have their own educational requirements does not serve us as a profession. The situation is getting worse, not better, as states like Florida increase their requirements. Yes, states have differing scopes. (Those who advocate for scope changes should be required to consider and advertise the impact the changes will have on licensure requirements.) Yes, it is in the interest of the public and the profession to insist that practitioners limit their practice to the tools and skills in which they have been trained. Additional, optional, training can always be required for those who wish to practice more advanced techniques or modalities. The least restrictive licensure requirements have shown themselves to be sufficient for safe practice.

Limited, standardized, licensure requirements would lower practitioner expenses, promote mobility, ease national marketing, and help the profession grow. It sounds great — as good as tuna smells to a cat. Does it make you make you want to come running? Many changes in licensure requirements could be made at the regulatory level and are within our reach. It does not depend on establishing reciprocity. One problem — the LAcs within a state have the power to make or block change, and, especially in restrictive states, the small group that set up the rules is often in power. Another problem — many LAcs don’t care about this until they are directly impacted.

This is a place where national coordination is needed. I hope the CSA sees that this is a place where they could make a positive difference. Let your state association know if you support a more standardized and simpler licensure environment. It should not require any herding.

Cat Food

Cat Food

 

 

Late March Update

The weekend is winding down and I didn’t make it to my planned “The Biggest Problem Facing the Profession” post.  However, there is lots of news in Acu-World. Here are some items to keep you busy until I get back to the keyboard.

  • Want to support the profession in a positive way? You may have contributed to funds for inter-professional squabbles or federal legislation. That money hasn’t helped us in a lasting or tangible way. Support POCATech and you’ll be supporting an acupuncture school committed to providing an affordable education. How would your practice be different if you didn’t have educational debt? Check it out here! POCATech will help more people get acupuncture from acupuncturists — it is a win/win.
  • ACAOM is considering changes to the post-Graduate Doctoral Program and they want to hear from you.  The survey took me about 15 minutes, most of that for reading. Personally, I support a Doctoral track open to those who have an acupuncture-only education. There is a long history of practitioners choosing one specialty.  The movement in some states to insist on complete OM or Herbal training and credentialing is discriminatory against acupuncturists and expensive! It is important that we all weigh in, whether or not we plan to pursue a doctoral degree. Deadline for response — April 17th.
  • In January NCASI was celebrating a ruling they believed meant PT’s would not be able to do dry needling in Utah. In March, Utah HB 367, legislation which would add dry needling to PT scope of practice, went to the Governor’s desk for a signature. Shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Utah has fewer than 100 LAcs and about 4000 PT’s.
  • Likewise, “despite the warning” of AZSOMA, SB 1154, which would add dry needling to PT scope of practice, has passed the Senate and made it through two committees of the House. The votes have not been close.
  • Last, and maybe least, the AAAOM collapse continues.  Acupuncture Today printed part II of their article, now with updates. The AAAOM came out with a response (prior to the latest updates). Given the latest updates it probably isn’t worth the time to go through the AAAOM response. Suffice it to say, it contains plenty of spin and quite a few inaccuracies. Mostly, I continue to note that we’ve heard nothing from the AAAOM about who is currently in charge there. And, no practitioners really seem to care.

That should be enough to keep everyone busy.  Back soon, with “The Biggest Problem Facing the Profession.” (No, it isn’t Dry Needling.)

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 :).

 

Our Worst Enemy

How do you feel about a regulatory situation that increases the odds that patients will receive acupuncture from minimally trained, non-LAcs while making it difficult for extensively trained LAcs to practice?  Is it better or worse if it is a state’s very own LAcs who are creating this situation?

The Delaware Acupuncture Council recently refused to grant a license to one of the most excellent practitioners I know.  This Virginia LAc,  a NCCAOM AC Diplomate and a Nurse, has had a very successful practice for over 13 years.  She is a former president of the Acupuncture Society of Virginia and has studied Medical Qi Gong extensively for the past three years.  The three LAcs on the DE Council present for the June meeting refused to grant her a license because she does not have NCCAOM OM Diplomate status.  Although the Council was reminded that they could grant an exception, they refused to do so.

It appears that only one of the four LAcs on the Council has the full NCCAOM OM status and one has NCCAOM AC status.  A third LAc has no formal acupuncture education or NCCAOM status, holding a degree in ayurvedic medicine granted for overseas study. I could not discover any information about the fourth LAc on the Council.

Delaware passed legislation related to the practice of Acupuncture in 2008, which you can read about here.  The legislation required full NCCAOM OM certification, including herbs but included three caveats, as noted in the AT article:  1) acupuncturists practicing in the state at the time the legislation was passed, regardless of education and credentials, were grandfathered in;   2) the legislation did not interfere with the activities of other professionals who were allowed to perform acupuncture; 3) the Acupuncture Council was expressly allowed to waive the requirements as appropriate.

Remember – herbs are not regulated by the FDA, and products containing Chinese herbs are available in the grocery store (see Airborne), or on-line, and are available to the public without prescription or the involvement of any health care professional.

Delaware currently has about 35 LAcs serving a population of about 1 million people. According to my research, there are 9 NCCAOM AC Diplomates in DE, and another 6 OM Diplomates.  The decision of the Council only increases the odds that the people of Delaware will receive treatment from non-LAcs.

The way I see it, it isn’t the lack respect from the western world, competition from other professions, or inequities in insurance reimbursement that are the biggest problems facing the profession.  It is a system in which small groups of LAcs in various states have determined that more credentials and education are necessary, even for those who are already extensively trained in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. They work for laws and regulations that increase the cost and time necessary to obtain an acupuncture degree and limit practice opportunities for LAcs.  This increases the odds that the public will receive treatment from providers who are not LAcs.

With friends like this….

A Level Playing Field

This was a comment to It’s Not Fair.  You can see the beginning of the exchange there.  Frank raises some great issues, so I’ve cut and pasted his comment below, along with my responses in italicsI’ll split it into a few posts to keep the length under control.

Frank writes:  Here is why I think we are not on a level playing field:

(I’m not a sports fan,so my analogy is probably off, but there is a difference between a non-level field and not knowing how to put together a team or play the game to your advantage.  My position is that while there are things that put us at a disadvantage we could still develop a winning strategy and a winning team. Underdogs can and do win.)

Exogenous factors  (All have endogenous aspects.)

1) Licensing. Not every state even licenses acupuncture, and of those not all include the scope of practice (herbs,nutrition, tuina) that people are taught in school. As far as I know, every state licenses PT.

If you haven’t seen my post about Scope, please read it. Most of our “leaders” don’t seem to understand the term, and, subsequently, we spend a lot of time and energy fighting unnecessary battles. A technique does not need to be specified in your legislation to be within your scope. Herbs, for example, are unregulated by the FDA and so anyone, including the check-out guy at the 7-11 can sell them.  (Check out the ingredients of Airborne, for example.)

Sometimes I wonder whether licensure has done more harm than good (a discussion alive in the ND community) but, accepting, for the moment, the conventional  wisdom that it is a good thing, shouldn’t we focus on licensure in all 50 states before pushing for Medicare coverage?  Shouldn’t we pay attention to reciprocity, agreeing on a mutually agreeable minimal set of requirements for licensure so that qualified and experienced LAcs in one state are likely to be able to practice in all states? (I’ll be posting more on this, but I find it tragic that within the profession we are setting rules that exclude so many of our colleagues!)

2) Money. PT is a $30 billion industry. A lot of the big clinics are funded with private equity money. They use aggressive Starbucks style positioning and can run clinics at a loss in hopes of pushing other big clinics out of business. Plus, they can fund advertising campaigns that make PT seem like a normative activity, and of course they can generously donate to candidates.

Yes, there are more PT’s and it is an industry. I don’t know enough about the specific business practices to comment, but I do know that many investors in PT practices are MD’s, powerful allies to have.  They also seem to have a strong national association.  Meanwhile we’ve got associations which have been promising they’ve turned the corner for years.  And we’ve spent so much energy fighting with other providers over our fear that they will “steal” our medicine that we’ve made enemies rather than friends (check out Love the Bomb). From what I can tell, there are enough people open to acupuncture that it is normative.  WebMD talks about it on a regular basis. Folks often report the great results they’ve seen when their pets receive treatment, for example. Our problem is that we have been unable to make good use of the positive buzz that is out there.

As for advertising, again, we have the money to do this, we just do it poorly. The AAAOM spent two years coming up with information cards that were intended to carry a positive message about our profession.  Instead, the first line reads — “Many healthcare providers are performing unlicensed therapies similar to acupuncture, but each state licensed acupuncturist has extensive training in an accredited college that ensures their dedication to providing excellent healthcare.”   We can’t even start on a positive note without casting aspersions on professionals who could be allies. This one sentence contains several inaccuracies/inconsistencies:  a) professions are licensed, not therapies, b) hasn’t the profession been arguing (foolishly imo) that these therapies are not similar to acupuncture but are acupuncture,and c)not all licensed acupuncturists graduated from accredited schools — it depends on the state and on whether they attended a US school. I’m no advertising executive, but that isn’t a helpful introductory line.  How many MD’s or PT’s (who could refer to us) would agree to display a card like that in their office?

It doesn’t take necessarily take big bucks to influence legislation — it does take a winning strategy, choosing issues wisely and building alliances whenever possible. We have not done that.