Late July Acupuncture News

CCAOM has released two new position papers regarding Clean Needle Technique. (No mention on the AAAOM or CCAOM sites about this important news.)  We practitioners are responsible for knowing the latest standards for safe practice, so here are the new position papers on the use of gloves and skin preparation for your convenience.

 

NCCAOM has finally released the report on 2013 Demographics from the JTA survey. 52K as the median pre-tax income is not good news, especially since most of us get no benefits (no paid sick leave, no paid vacation, no disability or health insurance, no retirement savings plan). (Then again, many of us seem to be working part-time, often by choice. So maybe the figure isn’t so crazy?)  Math lovers among my readers — feel free to share what additional number-crunching reveals. I’m not a numbers person, but I’m pretty certain that the average income will be below the median income figure.

67% of respondents hold only the NCCAOM AC credential.  If this accurately reflects the overall credential distribution within the profession the states requiring the OM credentials are off-limits to 2/3 of practitioners. That can’t be a good thing. (I’m still waiting for someone to explain the public health issues that led to the upcoming change in FL. And I sure wish FSOMA and the Florida Board would do a better job of spreading word of that change.)  Do those with the OM credential have a higher median income to offset the additional education and credentialing costs? The NCCAOM should collect that data next time.

The NCCAOM survey is designed to gather information from acupuncture practitioners so there is no data on how many acupuncture school grads have left the profession. I hope the CCAOM will soon require schools to track those numbers.

 

The California Board came in for some media scrutiny recently.  If the extra attention helps eliminate some of the extra hoops (which equal extra costs) necessary to practice in California, it will be a silver lining. I hear there might be some trouble on the New Mexico board as well (no details, though). Have independent boards been a winner for the profession?

 

It wouldn’t be an update without a little Dry Needling talk. The vocal segment of our community obsessed with the practice hasn’t been crowing about the Tennessee AG Dry Needling ruling that IMT/TPDN is not within the current scope of Physical Therapy. (Thanks National Policy Group for keeping us informed!) No doubt the concluding paragraphs referring to a legislative fix, as happened in Utah, tempers the celebration. And while I’m on the subject, here is a legal analysis of the faulty argument that the use of acupuncture needles by non-acupuncturists is illegal.  Can we please stop saying that now?  (As of Spring 2015, acupuncturists were unable to get needles from California suppliers, due to labeling of acupuncture needles as dangerous devices.  Around that time the NCASI FDA complaint became hidden on the NCASI site.  Here’s a copy NCASI – dry-needling-violations.)

I suppose this is enough to keep everyone busy for a while….

Licensure News

Finally! At the May 6th Delaware Board of Medicine meeting two experienced and NCCAOM-credentialed acupuncturists were granted Delaware licenses, bringing the number of the LAcs in the state to just under forty. This is good news for the people of Delaware. It is also good news for the profession as whole. And hopeful news for the practitioners who are now commuting to Maryland, or not practicing, because they were unable to obtain a Delaware license.

Why did it take action from the MD’s on the BOM to get these practitioners licensed?

These LAcs had appeared before the Acupuncture Advisory Board four times since applying for licensure in late 2012/early 2013. At several of these appearances the Acupuncture Advisory Board members acknowledged the applicants’ excellent qualifications but refused to grant licenses despite having the authority to do so.

For decades one of our “sacred cows” has been that we need our own boards. Then we’ll have the power to control our destiny. Sadly, when given the chance, some of us prefer to control our destiny right down the tubes.

Consider the history of the independent California Acupuncture Board, with its unique accreditation and exam process, and its ongoing problems. Or Nevada, with an independent board, 53 LAcs, a $1000 application fee and $700 per year renewal fee.  If Delaware had an independent board my colleagues would have had to go to the courts to present the argument (made by a public member of the Board of Medicine) that requiring an herbal education and exam for individuals who do not want to use herbs in their practice, in a state in which anyone can sell and recommend herbs, is restraint of trade.

It isn’t the M.D.’s and “the system” that is limiting the growth of our profession these days. It is other acupuncturists. I’ve asked and asked, but I have yet to find anyone who can explain why the Florida (independent) Acupuncture board is increasing the education and testing requirements for licensure. Have patients been harmed? If a change is needed are there options that would be less burdensome for the profession?

I’ll be interested to see the full minutes of the May 6th DE BOM meeting. In a classic conjunction of issues, a practitioner instrumental in drafting the restrictive Delaware law, and a current Acupuncture Board member who had voted against granting licenses to the two qualified acupuncturists, appeared before the BOM to ask them to do something to stop PT’s from doing dry needling.

Did either of these practitioners consider that their previous actions that limit the number of LAcs in Delaware increase the odds that citizens will seek treatment from non-LAcs? Or that our political power is limited by our small numbers? Did the BOM wonder what’s up with this profession — they don’t want anyone to use a needle, even other LAcs?  (FWIW, the BOM doesn’t regulate PT’s.)

You’d think that our own self-interest would prevent the credential and educational creep that costs us so much. But it hasn’t. The AMA Code of Medical Ethics states “A physician shall respect the law and also recognize a responsibility to seek changes in those requirements which are contrary to the best interests of the patient.” Restrictive laws and rules that limit access to qualified acupuncturists are contrary to the best interests of patients. Let’s work for change – for the people who need acupuncture and the qualified individuals who want to provide acupuncture. Credential creep hurts us all.

Five Important Dry Needling Developments

Yes, more on dry needling.  More about education will have to wait.

Five things to know —

  1. The Oregon Ruling did not (despite the Acupuncture Today headline) determine that “Dry Needling is Acupuncture.”  For a full exploration of the case, read this post. In summary, the ruling of the court was that Dry Needling is not physiotherapy.
  2. On April 1st Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed HB 367, legislatively adding Dry Needling to the scope of Physical Therapists.
  3. On April 24th Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed SB 1154, legislatively adding Dry Needling to the scope of Physical Therapists.*
  4. On March 25th Massachusetts HB 3972 advanced. This redraft of acupuncture bills HB 2051 and SB 1107 was necessary because the bill could not advance with the language that “dry needling is acupuncture.”
  5. At the end of April the Illinois Department of Professional Regulation issued an informal ruling that dry needling was not within the scope of practice for Physical Therapists “as the acts are currently written.”  That last phrase is important. From what I can tell there are about 550 LAcs in IL and over 9,000 PT’s.  The PT’s aren’t ready to call it quits. Time will tell if the victory for the LAcs is a lasting one. The PT’s could well look to Arizona and Utah and work for a legislative change.

(A colleague practicing in Delaware recently told me of the urgent phone calls and emails she’s been receiving — she must get involved in the fight against PT Dry Needling! Delaware is a state in which a few LAcs on the Advisory Board refuse to grant licenses to qualified acupuncturists. There are so few LAcs (less than 40) that they can’t maintain an association and citizens are far more likely to get acupuncture from a DC or an MD than an LAc. Now the profession wants to take on the PT’s? If there’s an urgent need for action from the LAcs of DE, perhaps it should be action to bring LAcs to the state?)

For those who insist we must do something about this serious risk to our profession, here are some suggestions. They would do far more to benefit our profession than this ongoing battle with the PT’s.

* One of the acupuncture profession’s strategies from the start of the Dry Needling issue was to argue, as the AAAOM wrote in their 2013 position paper,– “the addition of TPDN to physical therapy practice is being determined by physical therapy regulatory boards, deleteriously circumventing transparency and public health safety protections provided by standard legislative process.”  This was a mistake. Given the relative political strength of the PT profession and their MD supporters legislative victories are likely. Had we been willing to work with our health-care colleagues in the regulatory arena we might well have had input and influence in the use of this procedure.

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.)

A Practical Next Step

Okay, I’ve heard the critics — too much blaming the profession and focusing on mistakes, not enough positive things we can do now.  So, here goes —

A very practical next step, or maybe the most important thing to do to prepare for a next step, is getting your bearings. Any confusion about where you are now and your next steps might be in the wrong direction.  So let’s take a look at where we are with our old friend Dry Needling —

On January 23, 2014, the Court of Appeals of the State of Oregon issued a ruling regarding the practice of dry needling by Chiropractors. Surfing the web I’ve read “the issue came down to whether chiropractors could perform dry needling after having 24 hours of training,” and “The Oregon Court of Appeals ruled “dry needling” is acupuncture and not within the scope of practice of chiropractic medicine” and “This ruling sets a precedent which can have far-reaching effects beyond Oregon. It becomes part of the record for each state acupuncture Association to use in it’s own fight for appropriate licensure, training, and practice.”

It is certainly correct that the ruling does set a precedent, so let’s be sure we understand what that precedent is. I encourage all of you to read the ruling, linked above.  It isn’t long and it is interesting. You can see a nice summary here. Most critically —

  1. The ruling does not say that dry needling is acupuncture.  I don’t believe it includes any mention of the word acupuncture.
  2. The ruling does not consider how much training is necessary to practice this technique safely. Hours of training are irrelevant to this ruling.
  3. Patient safety is not explored or addressed in this ruling.

The Court focuses on the Chiropractic Board’s argument that Dry Needing is Physiotherapy and rules that it is not, based on the understanding of the word in 1927, when Physiotherapy was added to Chiropractic scope in Oregon.   (The Court clearly states that it does not find that Physiotherapy is the same as Physical Therapy.)

So, if you are in a state in which the PT Board or Chiropractic Board has argued that Dry Needling is Physiotherapy, and if Physiotherapy was added to that Board’s scope in the late 1920’s, this ruling sets a very important precedent.  I’m guessing the ruling may not quite live up to its reputation as a game-changer.

In other news, while NCASI is celebrating the Utah DOPL’s decision that dry needling is outside the scope of practice for Physical Therapists, there is a bill (HB 367) moving through the Utah House that would add Dry Needling to the Physical Therapy scope. (There are fewer than 100 LAcs in Utah, and several thousand PT’s). Similarly, Arizona S.B. 1154, legislatively adding dry needling to Physical Therapy scope has passed the Senate.

So, that’s where we are. And if you don’t buy my argument that knowing where we are counts as a practical next step, here, on its one year anniversary, but so relevant it could have been written today, are not ten, but ELEVEN, positive, practical, and fulfilling next steps.

2013 Review for Acupuncture Professionals

As 2013 was dawning, the WhiteHouse.gov petition to include acupuncture in Medicare was circulated by the AAAOM, NCCAOM, and loads of school and practitioners. Because coverage is not determined by the executive branch, over 30,000 signatures made no difference. That our professional organizations either didn’t know enough or didn’t care enough to educate acupuncturists about how the system works did give me the final push to create The Acupuncture Observer. From the first post last January through # 49 today, I’ve tried to provide thought-provoking strategic analysis of where we are and where we are headed.

The planned March AAAOM conference on a cruise ship didn’t set sail, making 2013 the second consecutive year without a conference. Things began looking up with April’s announcement that experienced professional Denise Graham was named AAAOM Executive Director.

However, by mid December, Ms. Graham and three Board members had resigned. (Previous ED, Christian Ellis, managed only three months in the fall of 2010.) A majority of the current board members have been appointed rather than elected. Something at the AAAOM smells. The Whistleblower Protection Policy, prepared in conjunction with the Confidentiality Policy adopted in April 2012, never resurfaced after it was pulled by then President Michael Jabbour (who is now managing the “operational transition”). We’ll probably never learn what is really going on in the board room, but 2013 marks the year I gave up hope that the AAAOM could become a viable organization serving the profession. It’s now become a single-interest (Federal legislation) organization, under the control of a small number of people, and without the resources to accomplish its priorities.

Throughout 2013 qualified LAcs were denied licensure by the Delaware Acupuncture Advisory Council’s insistence on the NCCAOM OM credential. New Florida regulations will limit licensure to those with NCCAOM Herb credentials beginning in October 2014, putting another state off limits to many practitioners and greatly increasing educational costs and the regulatory burden for those who intend to practice in those jurisdictions.

Outrage at  P.T. Dry Needling continued throughout the year. Some LAcs made arguments that reflect poorly on our concern for the public, such as suggesting we’d drop our objections if PT’s agree to use hypodermic needles for this technique. Various state associations began efforts to redefine acupuncture and to push for discriminatory insurance policies in response to dry needling and the end of 2013 brought newcomer NCASI (and their lawsuit against Kinetacore) onto the scene.

Late Summer brought proposed policy changes from the NCCAOM that would move the group several steps closer to becoming a regulating rather than credentialing body. In a bit of good news, comments from the profession sent the proposals back to the drawing board.

Over the course of the year growing numbers of practitioners added insurance billing to their practices.  We’ve been quick to throw stones at the billing practices (or rumored practices) of PT’s, yet many acupuncturists offer justifications for questionable practices and few seem clear on the exact nature of their agreements with the insurance companies.

In the waning days of 2013 a job opening for a Licensed Acupuncturist at Brooke Army Medical Center was posted on Facebook. Initial responses cast an interesting light on our profession’s self-regard. There were complaints that the salary (about 70k) was too low, some suggested that a PT would certainly get the job, and others complained about the requirement for a flu shot.

In a few days I’ll be back and begin looking forward. What will serve us in the year of the Wood Horse? When the dragon brings the energy of the spring back to earth, how should the seeds of the profession grow?

The Acupuncture Profession, News and Analysis

Three dedicated AAAOM Board members and AAAOM (super-qualified, knowledgeable, and committed) Executive Director, Denise Graham (my last hope that things could get better) resigned recently.

One board member spoke of an uncomfortable and increasingly controlled board environment, a declining membership (now less than 2% of the profession), and poor relationships with national and state leaders. Another stated that the AAAOM doesn’t have the support, revenue, or credibility to make progress towards legislative goals.

This isn’t the first time AAAOM has been on the ropes. If it hadn’t been for money from the AAC and support from other organizations, I doubt they would have survived this long. Somehow, though, they still manage to control the conversation.

In other news, NCASI, the National Center for Acupuncture Safety and Integrity, has appeared on the scene. NCASI’s list of “10 Facts” should be titled “10 Things We Insist are True and/or Important.”  Dry Needling by PT’s is legal in many states. Review my past posts on dry needling and scope for more background. We take real risks when we files lawsuits like these.

For twenty years, the acupuncture organizations have insisted that our success depends upon —

  • Increasing credentials/educational requirements/scope. It doesn’t matter if the old education, credentials, and scope worked fine. It doesn’t matter if it increases practitioner expense, decreases practitioner flexibility, or prevents some LAcs from utilizing techniques available to any other citizen.
  • Getting someone else to pay for acupuncture. Fight for third-party payment systems even if other professions report they make good medicine more difficult and practice less enjoyable. Ignore the hypocrisy of participating in a system that requires discounting services while also criticizing LAcs who offer low-cost or discounted treatments directly to patients. Insist that practitioners who don’t want to participate won’t be impacted, and turn a blind eye to the fraud that many practitioners engage in to make the $’s work.
  • Demanding a monopoly.  There’s no need to earn your market share by providing the best product — instead establish it through litigation and turf battles. Don’t worry if this requires you to disparage your fellow health providers or contradict your message that the public should be able to choose their providers.

After twenty years many LAcs struggle to stay in business, and most voluntary acupuncture organizations struggle to survive. Got questions about ADA compliance, insurance billing, privacy issues, advertising questions, disciplinary actions? You won’t get answers from the AAAOM and you probably won’t get them from your state organization.

It’s time to change our strategy. We have enough training, clients who seek our services, and other providers who respect the medicine so much they want use it themselves. Yes, we always need be aware of and informed about the regulatory/legislative landscape, but we also need business skills, PR, positive marketing, and an easing of the regulatory burden.  We need a good hard look at the cost of education. We need legal advice and business tools and positive interactions with potential referral sources and colleagues. We don’t need more legal battles, more regulation, more legislation, more degrees that further divide us.

When our organizations provide these things, we’ll have successful organizations, and successful practitioners. (If you don’t believe me, ask POCA.)

 

LAcs = Tea Party & Acupuncture Today = Fox News?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please support discrimination?!?

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

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

Okay, non-discrimination good.

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

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

News Update

and a bonus at the end —

October 1st, NCCAOM, Facbook —

 NCCAOM has received a significant volume of responses, and the results of this feedback will be taken into consideration during the development of the final policy and standards, as NCCAOM continues to strive for increased customer satisfaction. We are always eager to hear your suggestions for changes that will benefit you, the Diplomate, and the AOM profession overall. It is with your feedback that we can continue to meet your needs.
We are listening!

Spin?

October 2nd, date of scheduled AAAOM Town Hall, AAAOM website —

Legislative Town Hall

CALL POSTPONED – DATE TO BE DETERMINED

No additional news.

October 9th, Richmond, VA, Meeting of Virginia Acupuncture Advisory Board.

Agenda includes discussion of an alternate path to licensure due to conflicts between Virginia law and the NCCAOM proposed policy changes.

The representative from the state association (ASVA) was against any discussion of the NCCAOM issues. ASVA stated  — “lowering of standards…would do harm to both our profession and the public.” Who mentioned lowering standards? Is there evidence that anyone is harmed in states that do not rely on the NCCAOM credential?  Here is my post-meeting email to the association  –  ASVA comments.

The NCCAOM rep at the meeting was clear — the proposals were just proposals, stakeholder comments will be taken into consideration, any language referring to the effective dates of the changes was referring to effective dates for the proposed changes, not the actual changes. I envisioned someone pedaling backwards.

Questions of the Day — We attack when another profession “interferes” with our practice (DVM’s “stealing animal acupuncture”, PT’s “stealing acupuncture”, MD’s wanting to see our patients) even when we have little or no power to change anything. Why are we unwilling to even discuss it when an organization supported by our money, controlling our profession, at our request, takes action that costs us or limits us? We made a difference this time (we hope) – why aren’t our professional associations helping?

Here is a new page on Legislation and Regulation. It contains important and valuable information. Please, read it and pass it on.

I’ll be working on a page about the Acupuncture orgs (the alphabets) and another for potential acupuncture students in the coming weeks.