Second Night – Census Time!

How many Acupuncturists are there?

As we strive to increase opportunities for acupuncturists, we should know if we have the workforce to fill the demand we’re trying create. If we don’t have the workforce available, others will step up to fill the need. That may still be a win for the population able to receive acupuncture from other providers, but it won’t be the win the profession has been working for.

The new Standard Occupational Code with the BLS may, eventually, give us a good sense of our numbers. In the meantime, different sources give wildly different numbers of our strength. The NCCAOM, relying on state figures and their active Diplomate data gives a count of under 20K. Others who have gathered date from all of the states (no easy task) have been presenting a figure of almost 35K (Fan AY, Faggert S. Number of Licensed Acupuncturists and Educational Institutions in the United States in Early of 2015. J Integrat Med. 2017 September; Epub ahead of print. doi:10.1016/S2095-4964(17)60371-6).

I’ve historically used the numbers provided by Acupuncture Today. They’ve had the resources to purchase mailing lists and the financial incentive, at least in the days of paper publications, not to send multiple copies to the same practitioner, even if they were licensed in multiple states. I’m not sure their numbers are as accurate in the days of their digital edition, but they are currently showing about 28K LAcs.

In my experience a significant number of practitioners are licensed in multiple states, and a not insignificant number keep an active license when they are rarely or never treating. When getting a license is complicated and expensive, we don’t let them go lightly. For instance, if there were actually 25,000 practitioners, and 20% are licensed in two states, 5% in 3, and 2% in 4, there would be 34,000 state issued licenses.

(To put the numbers in perspective, there are 456,389 primary care physicians in the US. And a lot of patient care is still provided by nurses, PA’s, and other providers.)

Whether there are 20,000 of us or 34,000, it’s a small number to serve the population we hope to serve. And if we’ve got inaccurate numbers we may be writing checks with our ego that our bodies can’t cash.

The Hanukkah story celebrates a miracle – one night’s worth of oil lasted for eight nights. Maybe we’ll have a workforce miracle too. But it would be better if we knew how much “oil” we were starting with. And if we used that information when deciding where to focus our limited resources.

 

 

Acupuncture Organizations New and Old

We have a lot of organizations and associations for a small profession. Here’s some of what they’ve been up to.

AAAOM

Finally, communication from the AAAOM. According to their April mailing they’ve revamped their membership structure and are planning their first annual conference in over five years.

The new membership structure includes a free “Basic Membership” category. Does the basic membership give access to the annual report or permit the member to vote in BOD elections? If not, it isn’t a membership, it’s a mailing list. Calling it a membership gives the AAAOM cover to inflate their numbers (they’ve been throwing 7000 around) and mislead policy-makers about their strength.

ASA

The first Annual Meeting of the American Society of Acupuncturists was held March 4-5. You can read the full summary here. It includes updates on the activities of many other professional groups. Check it out, including the links.

CCAOM

I’ve only recently been alerted to significant problems in the 7th Edition of the CNT Manual released in July 2015.

One example – is wiping a point with alcohol prior to needling still required? In the position paper on their website and the July 2015 AT article CCAOM indicates that the skin does not necessarily need to be swabbed prior to insertion. Page 97 (or 73 in internal pagination) of the CNT manual puts swabbing with alcohol on the Critical (required) list, with the text “swabbing continues to be recommended.” Which is it, critical, or recommended?

The manual also contradicts itself regarding the cleaning of chairs and tables between patients. Must each table and chair be disinfected or cleaned? Between each patient, or only daily?

With our many traditions and practice styles it is difficult to define or describe a “standard of care” for many aspects of our medicine. This gives documents such as the CNT manual extra weight in the legal system.

This area of practice is outside my bailiwick. Is there an expert out there willing to do a thorough review and write a guest post? It is critical (not recommended) that we get this document right.

NCCAOM Academy of Diplomates

Yes, another new national organization. My feelings about it are as conflicted as my feelings about the NCCAOM.

On the one hand, NCCAOM Diplomates are a significant portion of the profession, and the NCCAOM has the money, power, and support staff to get things done. Earning a seat on the CPT committee (see the ASA report), for example.

On the other hand, an organization that promotes Diplomates only (and how can they vouch for anyone else) runs the risk of deepening a fault line in the profession. The NCCAOM’s history in the regulatory arena shows 1) they are persuasive and 2) their positions often benefit the NCCAOM and some subset of practitioners at the expense of the profession as a whole.

We don’t have a balance of power in the profession. The NCCAOM is in a weight class by itself and the Academy further tilts the scales in their direction.That concerns me. On the other hand, we’ve got no other group heavy enough to get in the ring with non-Acupuncture groups right now.

Let’s keep a close watch on the Academy.

NGAOM

The sparsely attended (30 practitioners?) February Town Hall covered why the NGAOM-affiliated malpractice insurance is such a bargain, how the OPEIU can help the NGAOM, and what’s happening in various states regarding dry needling and insurance reimbursements.

What I didn’t hear was further discussion of NGAOM’s baffling goal of mandating malpractice insurance for licensees in all states. Despite their claims, there is no evidence that lack of mandated coverage has had any impact on scope of practice issues or on how we are seen by other professions. Any insurance plan, landlord, wellness center, or employer can choose to require malpractice coverage. But if a self-employed or unemployed (by choice or circumstance) practitioner decides to bear the risk of working without malpractice insurance, they should be allowed to do so.

If this is the NGAOM’s idea of helping practitioners, we’re in trouble.

 

A few months ago I mentioned that change might be coming to The Acupuncture Observer. I haven’t yet resolved the tension between sharing breaking news and saving my limited time to explore the broader philosophical and strategic issues facing the profession. Would any of you like to be a breaking news blogger? (ASA, would you like a state update column every now and then?) For now, I’ve added a Facebook feed to the home page of the blog. Checking there (or liking The Acupuncture Observer on Facebook) should help you stay informed between posts.

 

 

Acupuncture News

We lack a national news source for the profession and so we are often in the dark about the forces shaping our future.

Here is some state-level news with national implications —

California: 

In January 2016 the NGAOM joined with CAOMA and nearly advanced AB758. This would have overturned last year’s legislation which moved California to the industry standard of ACAOM school accreditation rather than depending on the troubled CAB.

Connecticut:

The NGAOM successfully fought for legislation mandating Malpractice Insurance for all LAcs. Practitioners in CT report this was done without consultation with the state association. Malpractice insurance is a significant expense, and a needless one for licensees not in active practice.This new requirement doesn’t seem to benefit anyone other than insurance companies and the NGAOM (which gains members through discounted coverage) despite the NGAOM’s pro arguments.

Delaware:

Regular readers know that the DE Acupuncture Advisory Council has generally refused to use their waiver power to license practitioners lacking the full NCCAOM herbal credential. The BOM knows that depriving the public of qualified practitioners is not a public service and is proceeding with draft legislation (text not yet available) that would establish tiered licensure. While it’s not the best solution, it’s an improvement. New Council members are taking their seats in the next few months. Let’s hope we can all work together to grow the profession in Delaware.

Nevada:

The Nevada Board continues to push for an increase in educational requirements far beyond the Masters level. Having again ignored the advice of Nevada’s Deputy Attorney General they are now moving to hire their own counsel, perhaps explaining why Nevada’s fees are the highest in the country.

 

Acupuncture Today didn’t just miss these important news items, history shows AT is willing to selectively hide some developments within the profession.

After a series of well-received columns in 2007 author Lisa Rohleder received a letter from Executive Editor Crownfield — “After several conversations with my publisher and others, we are concerned about continuing your column under its current “theme”, for lack of a better word. While the concept of social entrepreneurship, particularly the “pay according to what you can afford” aspect, is admirable, it has dangerous potential from the perspective of professional advancement.” Yes, AT considered affordable acupuncture dangerous. (The ideas did have potential. The ideas Lisa presented developed into POCA. POCA has established a school, helped clinics provide millions of treatments, helped practitioners establish successful businesses, and provided free CEU’s and many other benefits, to members.)

The Acupuncture Observer may change a bit over the next few months. But until the profession develops a reliable source for news delivered in a timely fashion, TAO will do what it can to keep you in the know. Let’s keep each other informed. Are you aware of news of importance to Acupuncturists? Is there regulation that could keep Acupuncturists from practicing in your state? Is a group pushing for change that seems detrimental to the practice environment?  Email editor@theacupunctureobserver.com with your news. Let me know if you’d like to write a guest post. And subscribe to TAO (box on the upper right of the home page, your address will not be shared or sold) for news updates.

 

 

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.)

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

Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine in Nevada, What’s the Deal?

A regulatory board working against the best interests of the public and the profession  — it’s tragic, and it happens too often.

It has never been easy to become an acupuncturist in Nevada. Despite having the country’s first licensing law, passed in 1973, there are only about 50 individuals now practicing in Nevada, the 7th largest state.

It’s not only the $1,000.00 application fee, or the $1,000.00 practical exam fee. In the 2001 the press explored how Nevada’s unique rules caused problems for the profession.  The regulations may have changed, but similar issues remain.

Given the excellent safety record of practitioners licensed in states with less stringent educational requirements and via the widely accepted NCCAOM credential, it’s long overdue for the Nevada Board of Oriental Medicine to change their regulations, making it possible for the citizens of Nevada to get access to the safe and effective acupuncture and Oriental Medicine services that are available in so many other states.

The board is moving to update the regulations. To make it harder, not easier, to get a Nevada license. Not in response to harm to the public, not to bring the process in line with other states, but, because “the degree of MSAOM is odd and absurd.” Look for the “Justifications to amend,” on page 18 in this set of Nevada workshopdocs. You’ll shake your head.

The workshop docs show two sets of proposed revisions. The set dated June 16, 2014, was proposed by a previous Board, has made its way through the regulatory process, and could quickly be officially adopted after two more public meetings. However, the newly appointed Board members have decided not to act on those regulations, and have proposed new revisions. The lawyer in the Attorney General’s office isn’t quite sure what will happen now — it seems that “our” Board is unique in introducing a new set of revisions at this point in the process. (See ** below for more info on the Nevada Regulatory Process.)

The Nevada 2014 proposed regulations would have been somewhat problematic. The Nevada 2015 proposed regs would be a disaster. The reasonable aspects of the 2014 proposed regs are discarded and more restrictive provisions are introduced. The “grandfathering” provision, specifically excluding CEU’s from the 3000 hour requirement, takes away the one avenue for licensure available to most experienced practitioners. The insistence on a DOM or DAOM for all graduates after November 2017 is a significant financial burden for practitioners.

The proposed changes would slow access to and increase the expense of acupuncture in Nevada. They won’t help the schools meet those new gainful employment figures. The proposal dismisses the attempt (for better or worse) to defer to ACAOM for school accreditation, instead establishing an expensive and closely held accreditation process. A change which would allow applicants to sit the practical exam (offered only twice yearly) while their training and background is being vetted is discarded. The regs allow for an increase to $1,000.00 to the license renewal fee, rather than $500.00, and deletes a section on professional ethics from the current regulations. It’s hard to imagine that such awful regulations were written by our colleagues, not acupuncture-hating skeptics. Amazingly, the President of the Board certifies that, “having made a concerted effort” to determine the impact of these regulations on small businesses, there is none.  (See the workshop docs.)

My suggestions on what the profession could and should do in response to these regulations will come soon in a separate post. In the meantime, review the documents and consider how the changes would impact the profession Even those of us who don’t know a soul in Nevada and expect that we’d never practice there will see problems. At the moment, the LCB has not put these proposed revisions on the agenda.  Stay tuned.

 

** Nevada regulatory process —  the Legislature meets only every other year, for 120 days. Nevada law establishes a Legislative Commission, made up of 6 legislators from each house, that can approve regulations when the legislature is not in session. See more here, (generalize since this was written for a particular commission). Regulatory changes do not need to be approved by either the governor or the full legislature.

 

Sixteen (or so) Questions for the AAAOM

AAAOM representatives advocate transparency and Board members have offered assistance. I’ve got some questions, and I look forward to getting some answers!

  1. What is the current dues paying individual voting membership of the AAAOM and how many individual members voted in the March 2015 elections?
  2. How many organizational voting members does the AAAOM have, who are they, and how many voted in the March 2015 elections?
  3. Who was on the Election Committee supervising that election?
  4. Why do the new bylaws close Board meetings to members unless invited by the Board?
  5. Why is there such a large range (9-15) allowed in the size of the Board of Directors?
  6. How will the size of each Board be determined?
  7. A 15 person Board requires a vote of 8 for a position to prevail. A 9 person Board only needs a vote of 5.  Isn’t there risk that dissenting members could be driven from (or removed from) a larger Board in order for what would otherwise be losing positions to prevail?
  8. Does the new provision that elections be held only for contested positions open the door for a board to manipulate elections by setting the board size?
  9. What or who determines whether a director’s meeting absence is excused?
  10. What is the hold-up in the whistleblower policy? Why has it been impossible to develop a policy acceptable to the Board over the past two years?
  11. In the past 5 years, how many past employees or board members have been threatened with legal action by the AAAOM after departing their positions?
  12. Who was on the Governance Committee in 2014, and who is currently serving on that committee?
  13. Are substantive changes being made in the draft legislation from the 2013 language? How is the AAAOM planning for a different outcome than in 2013?
  14. Who is on the expert panel reviewing the “unified competency model“?
  15. AAAOM 2013 990 states that annual reports are available to the public via the website.  However, currently access is limited to members. Where can the public access the AAAOM annual reports?
  16.  The AAAOM refers to itself as the “profession’s national flagship organization.”  Is this similar to this Flag Ship Service Organization?     Okay, just kidding on that one.

AAAOM, how about some answers?

 

 

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.

More on Acupuncture Education

The for-profit schools don’t want to take responsibility for the circumstances of their graduates. And they won’t let the new gainful employment regulations go into effect without a fight.  Within days of the posting they filed suit to block the regulations. They did the same thing when similar regulations were announced in 2012, so I expect the DOE wrote the new regulations carefully to withstand an expected legal challenge.

However, with a pro-business and anti-regulation majority in the House and Senate as a result of last week’s election, even regulations found to be legal might not be enforced.  If the funds to track compliance aren’t in the budget, for instance, enforcement can’t happen.

Of course, if the schools and alphabets were committed to doing the right thing — producing the best possible graduates at the lowest possible cost to the students, regulations wouldn’t be needed, and wouldn’t threaten the schools even if they were adopted. I don’t expect that commitment from large businesses like Corinthian. I wish I could expect it from acupuncture schools. But most acupuncture schools seem to have little interest in what happens to their grads, and continue to present an unrealistic picture of life after graduation to potential students.

We’ve gotten to the point where even prominent conservatives acknowledge that the current system is a “bad deal for students and parents” and at least some are advocating for change. And it’s true that regulations, however carefully written, often have unintended negative consequences. All too often the well-off and powerful find ways to exploit loopholes and other tricks to avoid regulation, while smaller businesses find themselves significantly disadvantaged. (Consider what happened with the organic label.)

If the schools were on the hook for the money students borrowed no doubt things would be a lot different — from materials provided to prospective students, to the admissions process, to the education provided, to alumni support.

I don’t expect that will happen. And with the change in the political picture here in the US, who knows what will happen with the gainful employment regulations. For now, all acupuncturists can help the market work by helping prospective acupuncturists look past the pitch. Anyone entering the profession should do so with eyes wide open.

(Read this for more on how the November elections will impact the future of acupuncture and complementary medicine in the US.)

Who Speaks for You?

ACAOM’s letter to the Department of Education regarding the proposed gainful employment rules begins —

On behalf of the Commissioners of the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine (ACAOM), and in partnership with the Council of Colleges of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine (CCAOM), the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) and the American Association of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine (AAAOM), we write to offer comments…. Collectively, we represent over 33,000 students and graduate acupuncturists in the United States, and 56 colleges of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine.

Are there 33,000 students and graduate acupuncturists? Where did they get that number? Do they represent me? Reading the rest of the ACAOM gainful employment letter confirmed it – their letter doesn’t reflect my position on the proposed rules, or on the state of the profession.

ACAOM‘s existence depends on the schools and a steady flow of students, CCAOM represents the schools, and the NCCAOM‘s income depends primarily upon new graduates taking credentialing exams.  Once these groups get their money the future of acupuncture school grads is of little consequence to them.

Of course they would make the case for maintaining the status quo, but they should not be telling the DOE that they represent me.

I’ve just sent this email to the ED of ACAOM (mark.mckenzie@acaom.org) with CC’s to the leaders of NCCAOM, CCAOM, and AAAOM (kwardcook@thenccaom.org; executivedirector@ccaom.comcastbiz.net; DonLeelac@gmail.com), and to ashley.higgins@ed.gov (of the DOE) and bduran@mpamedia.com (of Acupuncture Today) —

 

ACAOM’s May 23rd letter to the DOE regarding the proposed gainful employment rules includes this phrase —

“Collectively, we represent over 33,000 students and graduate acupuncturists in the United States.”

Neither ACAOM nor any of the other organizations mentioned represents me.

The only organization listed that even pretends to serve graduate acupuncturists is the AAAOM. Their professional and student membership is a thousand or so, optimistically, and they were not in partnership with you for this letter.

I am not surprised that organizations that profit off students and new graduates would write a self-serving letter avoiding responsibility for the number of acupuncturists struggling to pay off huge educational debt.

I am not even surprised that you would claim to represent me. But I am angry that you did so.

Unless you can provide documentation that you do represent 33,000 students and graduate acupuncturists please retract your statement to the Department of Education and make clear that you are speaking on behalf of your organization, which depends on schools and a steady flow of students to survive.

Speaking for myself,

Elaine Wolf Komarow, LAc

In coming weeks I’ll explore more of the distortions and spin in the ACAOM letter. But for now I hope you agree that standing by while these organizations claim to speak for us is a mistake.

Borrow my text or use your own, but, let ACAOM and the other alphabets know they don’t represent you — and make sure the Department of Education knows that too.