Ethical Questions

Our future requires a willingness to explore beyond our quick conclusions of what is “right” and what is “wrong.” How do we proceed when two “rights” are in conflict with each other, or when a good end might depend upon a questionable means (or vice versa)?

Providing safe, effective, and accessible treatment to everyone who wants/needs treatment while also supporting ourselves and our families requires us to face various ethical quandaries. Many ethics classes are short on teaching principles to guide ethical decision-making and are long on lists of rules like “don’t have sex with your patients.”

Marilyn Allen’s recent column on ethics demands our attention. She’s had a significant role in shaping the acupuncture profession, and she teaches ethics. She has power.

The column focused on a discussion about “gainful employment” that has since been removed from the AAAOM practitioner forum.

The forum included colleagues sharing concerns about their debt, and upset at schools that exaggerated the future acupuncture job market while glossing over the skills and financial backing needed for success.

Ms. Allen (who has given considerable funding to the AAAOM over the years) is angry that this discussion was permitted. She insists that it is in the best interest of the profession, and our future colleagues, to keep concerns to ourselves. Even a shared conversation in a practitioner forum is too risky. We “should have shown support for the schools,” she writes.

Ms. Allen proposes the Rotary’s Four-Way test in her column. It’s not my preferred guideline for ethical decision-making, but since she refers to it I’ll use it —

 

1) Is it true? Many graduates of acupuncture schools do struggle to pay off debt. Schools did use misleading data in promotional materials, leading to unrealistic career expectations. The proposed Gainful Employment regulations did raise concerns about acupuncture programs. The forum topic is no longer present to allow for a complete fact check, but my assessment is that much of the content was true.

2) Is it fair to all concerned? What do we mean by “fair.” Who is “all concerned?” And what is “it?” I could write a post on each question. When a topic is being explored by many people, in many settings, does each contribution need to reflect the views and feelings of each stakeholder? Is it unfair to share our personal experiences and opinions about a system in which we have little power and bear the consequences? Is it fair for a membership association to solicit the opinions of its members? My assessment – it was fair for the AAAOM to provide a forum and for practitioners to use it.

3) Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Humans do better when we know we are not alone. Sharing our concerns and our experiences is a way to build community and friendships, which support us in our sometimes isolated professional life. Knowing that other regulated fields share these concerns can also help build goodwill and understanding. If we feel that a friend (or, in this case, a system) is taking advantage of us, does it strengthen the friendship and build goodwill if we speak up, or stay quiet and suffer? Yes, the discussion had the potential to build friendships and goodwill. Ms. Allen’s column, by advocating denial and repression, does not.

4) Will it be beneficial to all concerned? My list of people who would benefit from the conversation, even if it escaped the private forum: current debt holders who feel alone and unheard, schools who care whether graduates are satisfied, potential students who may not have fully explored the economics of entering their dream career, and taxpayers who may not want to subsidize ineffective programs. The discussion isn’t beneficial for the schools that want to keep raking in loan money while avoiding responsibility. Should we be censored for their benefit?

Ms. Allen writes “It is sad when you read an article about the profession that contains negativity coming from inside the profession. Essentially, this is giving the other professions (those looking to treat acupuncture patients) the ammunition they need to diminish acupuncture and attain their own goals.

I say, it’s sad when those with the power to change things for the better instead advocate for a flawed status quo. It’s a danger sign when secrecy is demanded for the good of the group. The Catholic Church and the Penn State Football program are examples of the moral failure that comes with that argument.

Thank goodness we’re dealing with finances and not child abuse. Nonetheless, shutting down conversation and preaching secrecy is neither ethical nor effective. If Ms. Allen wants to uphold acupuncture as the place “where hope and healing meet” then we need to delve into our challenges, not hide them.

 

 

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.

 

 

AOM Leaders?

Who decides the future of the profession?

Did you know about the meeting of the Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine “leaders” last weekend?

Who represents working acupuncturists at these meetings?

These meetings started in 2005. You can read about previous meetings herehere, and in CCAOM newsletters. Attendees typically include reps from ACAOM, CCAOM , NCCAOM, SAR, NFCTCMO, CSA, AAAOM, AOBTA, and sometimes COMRE. It’s good (I think) that these groups are communicating. It’s not good that most acupuncturists in the US are several degrees of separation away from representation there.

There’s not yet a publicly available report of the 2015 meeting. I do know —

The AAAOM continues to be invited and to attend, despite being out of compliance with their bylaws for years. The AAAOM website currently has no news of the recent elections, the board information is outdated, and there is still no whistleblower protection policy. Word is that the current board overlaps significantly with the board of the NGAOM. Michael Jabbour continues to fill the board position of Immediate Past President (what happened to the real immediate past President Don Lee?) and was present at the AOM Leaders meeting. Membership numbers of the organization are a mystery and I hear the AAC continues to provide much of their funding.

The others present at these meetings know that the AAAOM is a deeply troubled organization that represents only the smallest handful of practitioners. Why, oh why, does the AAAOM rate a seat at the table?

Representatives of the Council of State Associations are also in attendance at these meetings. I am glad that the CSA exists, working to mitigate the damage done by the lack of a functional national organization. I’m concerned, though, that few practitioners have any direct knowledge of this group and what they have to say at the AOML meetings. If you are involved with a state organization, and if the state organization participates in the CSA and communicates back to the membership, then you’ll find out about the CSA. Otherwise, you’re in the dark.

Why isn’t POCA invited? I don’t suppose they’d enjoy being there, but if the AAAOM with their mystery membership is invited, and the NFTCTCMO is invited, why isn’t POCA?

It’s difficult to find the right tone for this post.  I know the groups representing acupuncturists depend on volunteers who are doing their best. I also know that working practitioners too often find themselves at the mercy of the “good ideas” of credentialing agencies, accreditors, schools, and a few powerful colleagues. To make it worse, most practitioners have been misled about what actions are likely to be effective and create positive change.

When I look at who is invited to the AOM Leaders meetings, and how far most of us are from what happens there, it’s no surprise that so many of the developments within the profession seem to work against the best interests of acupuncturists. It reminds me of Congress, and that’s not a good thing.

 

 

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.)

AAAOM News Flash

AAAOM Dysfunction — finally getting the attention it deserves.  Thank you, Acupuncture Today, for finally taking a closer look at what is going on behind the scenes.

Petitions, Medicare, and Licensure

Notable news items in the acu-world this week:

1)  We finally got a response to the petition to the White House to add acupuncturists to the list of Medicare providers. My regular readers already knew that a petition to the White House is not going to create the legislative and administrative changes that would be required.  (Newbies, you can use the tag cloud to find previous posts on the petition and Medicare.)  The response has (no surprise) created the usual teeth-gnashing, with acupuncturists (who seem not to have read the response) lamenting that Obama doesn’t like acupuncture, that it’s all about money and power, that we’re doomed,…. The conversation also shows that even among those most strongly advocating for becoming part of the system, there is still significant ignorance about what would be needed to succeed and the consequences for the profession of “success”.  Also not surprising — no response from the AAAOM or NCCAOM who helped distribute the petition — even though they should have known enough to predict the response and had a year to prepare.

2)  The latest Acupuncture Today newsletter included an article on the six states in “licensure limbo.”  I suspect that overzealous regulation on our part (for example, Delaware and Florida requiring extensive herbal credential requirements for acupuncture licensure) contributes to the lack of enthusiasm for a practice act among practitioners.  I also believe that the acupuncture community’s aggressive and disrespectful response to PT Dry Needling and to MD’s and DC’s who do acupuncture is a significant factor in the unwillingness of those communities to support a practice act in those states.  Actions have consequences.

3)  A new “threat” on the horizon — some LAcs on Facebook are up in arms about Tattoo artists who are doing “dry tattooing” for skin rejuvenation.  You know the drill — how dare they, we have so much training, we need to gather the troops to fend off this encroachment. My points — tattoo artists can use needles, they can do cosmetic work (tattooing eyebrows for people with alopecia and tattooing nipples for people who have had breast reconstruction, for example) and they could tattoo someone’s face completely blue if the client wanted it.  Facial rejuvenation acupuncture is typically not taught in acupuncture school. Is there any reason (other than arrogant self-importance) why we believe we should have control over this technique?

I’m still adjusting to the addition of Facebook into my life. I haven’t figured out how to stay informed and involved there without taking the energy and the dialogue away from The Acupuncture Observer.  For those of you on Facebook, like the Observer page and you’ll get breaking news updates between blog posts.

Also, for those of you interested in learning more about navigating the political/regulatory system I’ll be doing a breakout session at POCAfest,  on March 15th in Tucson.  I’d also be happy to come to your state association meeting, conference, or other event. Knowledge is power.

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.