November ’15 Acupuncture News Update, Chapter 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Acupuncture Safety, and, a Matter of Fairness

Protecting the public safety is a good reason for regulation.

People have been injured by PT’s or Chiropractors doing dry needling.  When we see a story about that we share it. So I understand the comments on the previous post.

And, there were two recent threads on Facebook that caught my attention.

An LAc posted a question about whether it was possible to cause an infection by needling CO4. He’d treated a patient who later developed redness at the area. The patient visited an MD and was prescribed an antibiotic. I was surprised at the practitioner’s question, and surprised and mortified at the responses.  Which included: The MD is just trying to cover his ass, they just like to prescribe antibiotics, not if you used sterile needles, not if you used an alcohol swab on the area first, people freak out all the time, etc. A day or two later, the initial questioner reported that the patient was now hospitalized with a staph infection.

Another LAc wrote that a patient reported she’d had a pneumothorax from a treatment and was now asking for financial compensation for a portion of the medical expenses and several weeks of missed work. What should the practitioner do? Of course, getting some documentation makes sense, but the responses also included: if it really happened why doesn’t the patient have a lawyer, if you’d given her a pneumothorax you would have known it immediately, she must have had some sort of underlying medical condition so you aren’t responsible, etc.

Personally, I know some amazing practitioners who have firsthand experience with pneumothorax(i?) on both ends of the needle.

I don’t believe we have sufficient record keeping to know the relative safety records.  Dry Needling does involve a deep and aggressive needle technique and so is more likely to do damage.  That’s true even with an LAc holding the needle.

When a story comes out that involves harm done by an LAc, we make all sorts of excuses and focus on our generally good safety record. When we find out about damage done by a PT or DC, we trumpet the news, and make smug and superior comments.

When it comes to fairness, most of the things I hear LAcs complaining about are either self-inflicted or, sometimes, imagined.  The length of our training — we’ve been behind the increase. The differing insurance reimbursement — is that insurance thing working out for anyone?

This post is mostly blogger’s prerogative to give what is really a comment on the previous thread a higher visibility.  I won’t make a habit of it.  But hwds’ are one of my pet peeves — that’s hypocrites with double standards, and when our response to what happens at the pointy end of the needle seems to vary so much depending on who is at the handle, I think that term applies.

 

 

What’s your Acupuncture Degree Worth?

Answer: Less than it used to be.

(Please, sign the petition.)

If you earned an MAc and Dipl. Ac (NCCAOM) twenty years ago, you thought you had it made. You could get a license in almost all states with licensure. The schools and the NCCAOM touted the caliber of the education and credentials. You knew you had plenty to learn about this medicine, but you could practice safely.

In the gainful employment letter ACAOM points to the (supposed) earnings of those long-ago grads to minimize the financial struggles of recent grads.

But in 1995 the NCCAOM added the Herbal exam, and later the OM. Some states now require those additional credentials of all practitioners. ACAOM has increased hourly requirements for school accreditation several times. And the NCCAOM has put additional limits on who can take their exams.

Some of our most esteemed teachers do not meet the current requirements for sitting the exams. Many practitioners are trapped, unable to relocate.

By increasing the range of degrees and credentials available before our “brand” was established and our profession was strong, the alphabets increased division and confusion. No wonder the public can’t figure out how an LAc’s education compares to that of other providers.

And here comes the First Professional Doctorate. With this new degree, my alma mater announces,

“[graduates] will be recognized as doctors, both professionally and publicly, and will have increased credibility and standing.”

If graduates with an FPD have increased credibility and standing, what has happened to the credibility and standing of graduates of Masters programs?

According to ACAOM’s gainful employment letter, licensure requirements just happen, and practice success is a simple matter of practitioner choice.

Really, though, the “alphabets” have played a significant role in the expansion of requirements and credential creep, and most of the schools do little to teach students how to make wise business choices.

If, as ACAOM wrote, the graduates of twenty years ago do so well, why have entry level requirements been increased so much? Why are grads struggling to pay off existing loans encouraged to return to school to maintain their credibility? Will the NCCAOM require an FPD to sit their exams? Will the alphabets encourage states to require it for licensure?

ACAOM/NCCAOM/CCAOM/AAAOM — if you represent us, defend the value of our degrees and credentials. Your “options” too often become a requirements.

Colleagues, did the gainful employment letter represent your views? If not, sign the petition. 129 people have, which means ACAOM etc. can still claim to represent 32,871 of us.

For additional information and analysis about educational costs and value, check out this from The New York Times and two posts from Dr. Phil Garrison

 

 

Acupuncture in Louisiana

If a resolution is passed and no one is listening, does it still impact the profession?  Sadly, in this case, yes.

I wasn’t planning to write today, but then I came across Louisiana SCR 22 which has been moving through the legislature. It may have passed already (I’m trying to find out), though according to the information here it is still in a House Committee. (5/21, verified, this is not YET a done deal, there are still two opportunities for the resolution to be amended!) You may know that in Louisiana only MDs and DOs can be Acupuncturists.  An individual who has gone to acupuncture school or passed the NCCAOM exam can apply to be an “Acupuncture Assistant” and work under the supervision of an MD. This resolution would establish The Practice and Regulation of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Review Committee, and could have been a terrific opportunity to make the practice environment in LA more amenable to LAcs.  It gets off to a great start –.

WHEREAS, the practice of acupuncture and oriental medicine provides important health benefits to the residents of this state; and

WHEREAS, the practice of acupuncture and oriental medicine has become a well established, widely-used, viable modality across the United States; and

WHEREAS, when practiced as a whole medicine, by a fully trained practitioner, the practice of acupuncture and oriental medicine satisfies a missing niche that includes a prophylactic approach that allows the patient or a referring medical director a proactive avenue towards health when neither symptoms nor severity of disease warrants other forms of treatment; and

WHEREAS, oriental medicine often becomes a valuable way to identify those in need of a referral to a western medical provider.

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Legislature of Louisiana does hereby direct the Department of Health and Hospitals to create the Practice and Regulation of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Review Committee

But, look at the language for the committee membership  —

(1) The secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals or his designee.
(2) The Senate president or his designee.
(3) The speaker of the House of Representatives or his designee.
(4) The executive director of the National Certification Commission for
Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine or his designee.
(5) The executive director of the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine or his designee.
(6) The executive director of the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners or his designee.
(7) The executive director of the Louisiana State Medical Society or his designee.
(8)A chiropractor designated by the Chiropractic Association of Louisiana who is certified as a diplomat of the American Board of Chiropractic Acupuncturists or has completed equivalent training in acupuncture.
(9) A physical therapist designated by the Louisiana Physical Therapy Association.

 

So, eight members, including a DC and a PT, but no fully-trained acupuncturist. The AAAOM doesn’t even have an Executive Director at this point, and probably doesn’t have the funds to hire one, and in any case represents only a tiny portion of the profession.  The NCCAOM should be on our side, but their input in Delaware, for example, wasn’t positive for the majority of LAcs.  Once upon a time we might have looked to the PTs as allies, but our speech and actions regarding dry needling destroyed that.

I did send this Letter to Senator Mills today (which you can borrow from), but if the resolution is engrossed it is too late. The best we can do then is advocate for acupuncture friendly designees, make sure to stay in touch with the eventual appointees, and hope we can show them that the public would be served by allowing those trained as acupuncturists to be acupuncturists.  I’m sorry that this one got by me (I’ve got a practice to maintain), and sad that we don’t have a national organization to track and act on such things. AAAOM, where were you? I have high hopes for the CSA, but, without a state organization, Louisiana probably wasn’t on their radar. This was a missed opportunity.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 :).