Fourth Night – Service

Join your state acupuncture association.

At least once in your professional life, serve on the Board of that association, or, serve on the Board of another professional group, or serve on a committee that serves the profession, or serve in a regulatory position.

If you support other groups, like AWB, SAR, POCA, join them too. But not instead.

Join your state association even if you are thinking “but they haven’t done anything that I agree with” or “they don’t do anything at all” or “they are a bunch of a-holes who actively work against my interests” or, “I already support these other organizations that actually do the stuff I care about.”

Trust me, when I get a newsletter telling me that a top priority for my state association is continuing the fight against dry needling, I struggle to write that membership check. (Because the fight has sucked up our resources and poisoned relations with potential allies and there is no chance we’ll win.)

Why give your hard-earned and too often insufficient money to a group that you believe uses it poorly?

  1. Membership organizations are designed to represent the needs and desires of their membership. To think “I’ll join when they stop doing stupid stuff I hate” is asking them to put the preferences of non-members over members, and that’s unreasonable.
  2. Health care is regulated by the states, and the state association has some degree of power (it varies from state to state) over regulations, legislation, and appointments. It’s good to have a say in how they’ll use that power.
  3. The policies of our best hope for a productive, consensus-building, national organization meant to serve all LAcs, the ASA, are determined by a Council, the membership of which is determined by state associations.
  4. There aren’t that many of us. Even if state associations have 25% of their state’s practitioners as members (optimistic – though maybe our lower percentage is related to misperceptions in how many LAcs practice in the state) that’s still a small number. It’s hard to do much if your organization is supported by and represents fifty people.

You should serve on a Board at least once because –

  1. The experience of: working to give people what they want, balancing the demands of those who want very different things, explaining that there is no shortage of good ideas just resources, explaining (again) why the association can’t provide a health insurance plan, giving people what they’ve asked for only to find out they weren’t really going to take advantage of it (you all said you wanted inexpensive monthly CEU classes, but only two of you came) – is educational. It builds compassion and understanding for those who serve.
  2. It will teach you a lot about regulation, legislation, and how some of what people insist we could do if we just FOUGHT, is not actually doable, even when everyone involved fights their hardest.
  3. Numbers again. A fifty person organization, with a five person board, and three committees of three people means about a third of the members have to be serving at any given time.
  4. People usually become willing to make the sacrifice of serving when they get worked up about something. They feel strongly about a particular issue. It’s good to have balance so one strong leader doesn’t shut out other voices.

Now, for my friends who are serving –

  1. Thank You!
  2. Working for consensus is good. Compromise is good. Listen to the concerns of all of your colleagues and don’t automatically respond with the party line. Be thoughtful.
  3. We’d have an easier time getting people to serve if Board members didn’t end up burdened with tons of administrative work. $$ for political action is important, but let’s not neglect the benefits of $ for organizational support.
  4. Criticism is not the same as negativity. Some positions and actions are deserving of criticism. If we don’t dismiss it, we can learn.

 

And, for all of us — let’s not take our differences personally.

 

(It’s not dark yet. I made it.)

 

(Note to self, 8 posts in 8 days requires advance planning. Not a good spur of the moment project.)

 

 

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Acupuncture Exceptionalism

American Exceptionalism is the idea that The United States of America is inherently different from other nations. That our founding and background gives the US a unique mission to transform the world and a superiority over all of other nations.

I’ve recently noticed that practitioners of Chinese/East Asian Medicine have their own version of this, which I call Acupuncture Exceptionalism.

The attitude of exceptionalism skews the interpretation of events. Our own actions are given the benefit of the doubt and ascribed to the best of intentions. The actions of others are considered with a critical eye.

Some examples of Acupuncture Exceptionalism:

We regularly advise clients regarding vaccinations, pharmaceuticals, procedures, and dietary plans suggested by other health care providers. When other providers advise about acupuncture and herbs we are outraged at their presumption.

We widely share studies and news reporting positive results from acupuncture treatment. Studies and news showing a negative outcome are dismissed because “they aren’t doing it right” or didn’t tell the whole story.

When a patient reports harm from “Western medicine” or a treatment done by a non-LAc we rant about the failings of the system or the provider. When a patient reports harm after a treatment provided by an Acupuncturist we find ways to deny that harm occurred, find another cause for the situation, or place responsibility on the patient.

We encourage patients who have been harmed by dry needling to report it to the authorities, and if they won’t we will. We are shocked and angry when a patient files a formal complaint pertaining to treatment received from an Acupuncturist.

We complain that PT’s are engaging in insurance fraud by using the Manual Therapy code for Dry Needling. We justify the use of pain codes for every client, because, well, everyone has pain and, after all, the system is stacked against us.

We are furious that other professions are using “our” medicine, especially without what we determine to be appropriate training. We add homeopathy to our scope without a second thought.

We support and celebrate a lawsuit filed against a PT Regulatory Board as an appropriate defense of our profession. We are outraged when a counter-suit is filed against our board.

 

An attitude of American Exceptionalism does not increase the standing of the US in the eyes of the world. You can’t learn from mistakes when they are denied or explained away. Hypocrisy and double-standards impress no one.

Likewise, Acupuncture Exceptionalism does a disservice to our medicine and to our future as health care providers. If our medicine is powerful enough to help people, it is powerful enough to cause harm. Denying risk puts our patients and our profession at risk. Dismissing valid concerns about acupuncture and herbs from other professionals prevents us from establishing collaborative and respectful connections. If we want to improve our skills and training and service, we must take a clear-eyed look at where we are succeeding and where we could do better.

I’m confident enough about the benefits and overall safety of this medicine that I’m not afraid of looking inward with a critical eye. Are you?

 

 

NCCAOM Code of Ethics & Grounds for Professional Discipline, Part II

The NCCAOM’s call for comments on the Code of Ethics and Grounds for Professional Discipline ends September 12, 2015 .We owe it to ourselves and our profession to share our thoughts with them.

Here’s what I’ll tell them —

Dear NCCAOM,

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Code of Ethics and Grounds for Professional Discipline. My significant concerns with these documents can be traced to three overarching issues —

  1. The NCCAOM credential is required to maintain state licensure for many acupuncturists. You advocate for this arrangement. Yet the current Code of Ethics is more suitable for a voluntary exceptional standard adopted by choice.
  2. States that require NCCAOM credentials have their own regulatory boards, ethical codes, and disciplinary process. The NCCAOM Grounds for Professional Discipline empowers you to pull a practitioner’s credential, removing them from practice, even when a state board would allow continued practice for the same violation. This turns the NCCAOM into de facto regulators and creates double jeopardy for practitioners.
  3. The NCCAOM reserves the right to take disciplinary action against any practitioner who violates the Code of Ethics. The Code covers behaviors ranging from serious threats to the public safety to those in the realm of Public Relations. The NCCAOM should explicitly limit the use of disciplinary action to violations that risk the public safety.

A few specific examples —

  • “Exceeding the scope of practice as defined by law or certification” is grounds for discipline. Scope is defined by the state, and may not be accurately determined by written language in code or regulation. Since state regulatory boards ultimately rule on whether or not a procedure is within scope, and since that board would determine proper discipline for any violation, no action from the NCCAOM is needed. References to scope should be removed from the NCCAOM document.
  • “I will continue to work to promote the highest standards of the profession” is listed in the Code. Must practitioners promote the FPD or DAOM, the addition of herbal exams to licensure requirements, and the expansion of the NCCAOM credential requirement to all states? Who determines the highest standard? This language is coercive at best.
  • The Code of Ethics requires credential holders to report peers who violate the Code. It is untenable to expect Diplomates to report every peer in violation of any aspect of this far-reaching code, and it is unfair to wield the power to hold us responsible for any failure to do so.

I support rigorous professional ethics and respect the NCCAOM’s intent to establish high standards for the benefit of our patients and our profession. However, your role for the profession is to validate entry-level competency. Much of the current Code of Ethics and Grounds for Professional Discipline goes far beyond this role. Continued overreach into areas best left to regulators and voluntary affiliations puts at risk the NCCAOM’s position as a credentialing organization.

Thank you for your consideration of these comments,

Elaine Wolf Komarow, L.Ac, Dipl. Ac. (NCCAOM)

Those of you who would like more background on the role of the NCCAOM in our profession should look at Part I of this post.  I encourage those who are interested in another viewpoint of the NCCAOM and its impact on the profession to review these comments and consider signing this petition.

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.

 

 

Court Ruling will Impact Acupuncture Boards

The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners violated federal law when it tried to prevent non-dentists from offering teeth whitening services.

What does this have to do with acupuncture?

The ruling has the potential to impact all professional regulatory boards.  I’m travelling and don’t have time or an internet connection sufficient to do a thorough report. I encourage you to click through and read the links below — I think most of you will be able to come up with a few areas where LAcs have been sounding an awful lot like those NC dentists….

No anti-trust immunity for Professional Licensing Boards

Unfair Competition

Dentists can’t decide who whitens your teeth

State Licensing Boards not Protected

Board Prevented from Limiting Competition

As Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, said

“state boards composed mostly of active market participants run the risk of self-dealing.

“This conclusion does not question the good faith of state officers but rather is an assessment of the structural risk of market participants’ confusing their own interests with the state’s policy goals,” he said.

 

Many LAcs insist the only reason they want to stop PT’s and DC’s from doing Dry Needling is concern for the public. Could they be confused?

 

 

It was Twenty Years Ago Today

….. that I was granted my Virginia Acupuncture License (#4). I’d been licensed in Maryland for a few months, but the Virginia License was special. Throughout my years of acupuncture school I’d been involved with the Acupuncture Society of Virginia, working to establish a practice act. We were finally successful in 1994, and my documents were ready and waiting when the regulations were promulgated.

I’m happy I found this wonderful medicine when I did. I feel lucky to be doing this work, and look forward to continuing to practice for decades to come. And yet, these days, I’m mostly sad about the acupuncture profession.

Back in the day, when only MD’s could do acupuncture in Virginia, we argued that the public should have the right and the ability to choose their provider.

We discussed how our medicine could treat the whole person, and that treatments were uniquely tailored to the individual.  We didn’t see patients as a collection of ailments, to be sent from one specialist to the next.

We talked about the good value of our medicine and our belief that it could reduce health care spending.

We got used to the medicine being dismissed by the medical establishment, but held out hope that, some day, they would see the value of what we did.

We knew that this medicine would require lifelong study and learning, but experience told us that about 1500 hours of training was sufficient to produce competent practitioners.

We were happy when we were finally able to receive student loans to attend acupuncture school.

We had concerns about relying on one standardized exam as a precursor to licensure, especially one that was based primarily on one tradition. But we knew that it would relieve some of the burden on the states, and so might help with national acceptance.

It was a time of promise.

Now, my Facebook feed is full of rants — we’ve now decided that, just as the MD’s wanted to protect the public from us, we now must protect the public from the PT’s.

Rather than celebrating the professionals who see the value in this medicine and want to offer it to their clients, we scream that they are stealing our medicine and must be stopped.

We’ve justified our increasing fees (after all, if the MD’s deserve it, we deserve it), and, then chased the insurance dollar so that our patients can afford our services. We’ve adopted the billing games that come along with that, fudging fees, adding services, figuring out what diagnoses to use to get reimbursement, and expressing outrage when we’re called on our behavior. Some of us have gone so far as to attack those who have designed a system to make acupuncture truly affordable to the majority of the population.

We decided that more education would get us more respect, and so increased and increased, and increased again the hours required for entering the profession.  The number and complexity and cost of the exams increased. In a solution to a problem that didn’t exist, practitioners in some states decided an acupuncture education was not enough.  Acupuncturists now must also learn and be tested on herbal medicine, whether they want to use it or not. Various states added additional requirements, so any relocation runs the risk of shutting a practitioner out of the profession. The student loans we celebrated enabled schools to ignore the disconnect between the cost of the education and the likely income of graduates.

I could go on. I won’t.

Shaking my head at the missteps we’ve made, I comfort myself with the confidence that the medicine will survive, even if the profession won’t. Happy Anniversary.

 

 

 

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.

NCCAOM/Dry Needling/A Young Profession

A survey about the possibility of a new NCCAOM certificate in Facial Rejuvenation showed up a few days ago. The online conversations were a reminder that many of us are confused about the NCCAOM — what their role is, what we want their role to be , what their role “should” be.  The topic deserves its own post, but, in short, the NCCAOM is a credentialing agency. They design, administer, and maintain the process by which most of us are able to be licensed.  There are loads of consequences of their power within our profession, especially because we have not had, for some time, a truly effective or well-functioning national professional association.

There were many complaints that the NCCAOM hadn’t done more to “stop dry needling.” That, combined with yesterday’s urgent petition regarding legislation on the Governor’s desk in Delaware, made we think I’ve got to try, one more time, to explain where we are with the issue and why what we’ve been doing won’t work. My post to my alumni group is out of context, but I hope still worth sharing (somewhat edited for clarity) —

Since Dry Needling is the issue that keeps coming up as a major focus for the profession, I wanted to give a little more info about the “court rulings” in our favor.

The one that received the most notice and attention was the case in Oregon regarding Chiropractors and Dry Needling.  The outcome of the case was widely misrepresented within the acupuncture community. Various stories indicated that the courts said that dry needling was acupuncture or that it had been determined that the training programs were insufficient.  This was not the case.  You can read a fuller explanation of the outcome of the case here – http://theacupunctureobserver.com/a-practical-next-step/. The gist of the ruling is that dry needling does not meet the implied definition of physiotherapy within the Oregon code.

Other states have also had rulings (usually informal) from the Attorneys General stating that dry needling is not within PT scope.  These rulings have typically been much celebrated within the acupuncture community, but we haven’t been hearing what happens next.  For instance, some time ago Utah was celebrating such a ruling.  Since that time, legislation added dry needling to the scope of physical therapists.  Similar legislation passed in Arizona.  When the AG recently ruled that dry needling was not within PT scope in Tennessee, the ruling included phrasing that basically said, PT’s will need to address this legislatively, as was done in Utah.  (You can get the link to the ruling here — http://theacupunctureobserver.com/late-july-acupuncture-news/).  Illinois is another state where the AG’s latest opinion agreed with the argument that dry needling was not within PT scope, but where the PT groups are already preparing legislation for the next session.

There will probably be states where the acupuncture community is large enough and well-connected enough (and Maryland might well be one) where similar legislation would not be successful, but if you look at the numbers in most states, the PT’s (who also often have business connections with the medical establishment) are likely to prevail.

Today I received a notice of a petition regarding DE HB 359, adding dry needling to the scope of PT’s in Delaware.  HB 359 passed by overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate and needs only the Governor’s signature.  Among the “gems” in the petition – “Accordingly, HB 359 will potentially place the general public in significant danger of injury and harm due to unsafe and unqualified needle practices.”  There are about 800 PT’s in DE, and even more PT Assistants.  There are 45 LAcs.  The odds of the Governor exercising his veto are slim, the odds of pissing off 800 PT’s?  Pretty good, considering we’ve just stated they are putting the public in significant danger.  Interestingly, one of the authors of this petition is the same person who pushed for the requirement of the NCCAOM OM credential in DE, putting practice off limits to about 70% of US acupuncturists.  Isn’t it ironic that the profession’s self-imposed restrictions on licensure in Delaware have left the LAcs scrambling to block action by an overwhelmingly larger group?

Had LAcs been more willing to work with the PT’s from the start, I suspect that in many jurisdictions we’d have come out ahead.  We’d have built relationships and understanding and had some influence, perhaps, on how this modality is practiced.  By sending PT’s to the legislative fix (that’s what “we” said right from the beginning – if they want to do this they should do it legislatively) we’ve taken ourselves out of the process.  As they succeed with changing the law we’ve lost any influence on the procedure.

Of course, trying to work together might not have changed anything.  Professions (including our own) are universally unhappy about outsiders coming in to tell them what they should do and how they should do it.

I will add three things in response to the previous post.  1) While I appreciate the frustration felt by LAcs when dry needling and acupuncture are spoken about as being equivalent, hasn’t it been our insistence that dry needling IS acupuncture that led to this? Wouldn’t we be better served by clarifying the distinction between the two? (Of course, that would undermine our argument that we have a right to regulate the procedure.)  2) There are many cases of patients not wanting to report harm suffered at the hands of providers.  This happens among acupuncture patients too. Even LAcs can cause a pneumothorax.  3) The cease and desist orders can’t help but remind me of the stories from decades ago of acupuncturists being threatened with arrest for practicing medicine without a license.

It hasn’t taken long for us to go from being the scrappy upstarts just wanting to help people with a simple technique, and frustrated by the establishment that was trying to shut us down, to acting like the establishment.  We’ve got our ever-increasing credentials, and maybe specialties soon, and are increasingly able to participate in the bureaucratic system of figuring out which set of codes gets us a reimbursement we can live with. Now, in Maryland, LAcs can interfere with a citizen’s ability to choose what treatments they get from which providers, and can throw their weight around in the provider community.

PT’s will outnumber us for a long time to come.  It’s a shame we’ve pissed in that particular well.

 

Talking about our Education

“We have over (2000 hours, 4000 hours, 3 years, 4 years) of education and they want to do acupuncture with (a weekend, less than ten, 200 hours) of training!The public is in danger.”

“The (PT’s, Chiropractors, MD’s) doing acupuncture are significantly undertrained! If they want to do acupuncture they need to go to acupuncture school, or at least take (400, 500,1000) hours of training.”

It’s a no brainer, right? But ….

1) We are comparing our total professional education to additional post-professional-degree hours.

An MSAOM curriculum includes: Biochemistry, Introduction to Organic Chemistry, Anatomy and Physiology, Microbiology, Introduction to Western Pathology, and a Survey of Western Clinic Sciences (3 semesters). M.D.’s have already covered these classes in their education.

2) Does the aspect of “our” medicine they want to use require a full TCM education?

Is Tai Qi, Qi Gong, Introduction to Botany, 40 credits of herbal medicine, a semester of auricular acupuncture and 3 semesters of point location needed for a PT to safely use a needle to release a trigger point? (If you insist they learn all of that, won’t they then argue that they can also do auricular acupuncture and distal points?)

3) How well-educated are most acupuncture school graduates? How worthwhile was most of their time spent in school?

ACAOM standards were based on the programs that existed at the time credentials were being established. They were not based on a careful analysis of what was needed to train safe, effective, successful practitioners. Acupuncture related Facebook groups include posts asking about using moxa to turn breech babies, how to treat TMJ (no pulse, tongue, or presentation information provided), and recommendations for treating people undergoing chemotherapy. With our thousands of hours of training, shouldn’t we know the answers to these questions? (Or have a better source than Facebook for answers?)

4) Is there a correlation between the length of a program and the quality of the graduates? Were the early U.S. practitioners (many of whom had less than 1300 hours of training) harming the public?

It is an article of faith in the acupuncture community — our training of X hours is necessary for safety, and anything less is an affront and a danger. Yet a colleague recently wrote “I am at a medical acupuncture conference. Exceeding my expectation. The presenters know their stuff. Lots of depth…. I am going to find out about their training. Maybe they are a special group….what i am seeing here meets any high standards TCM conference…. Very surprised.”

The more (as defined by us) = better has done us no favors. The numbers we fight for are arbitrary. The argument is easily refuted by other providers. Adopting it within our profession has increased the business strangling debt-burden new grads carry. And created internal divisions which only further harm our growth. (How long before a state (or the NCCAOM) demands the FPD to become an LAc?)

Please, let’s let the knee-jerk “less is dangerous, more is better” argument go.