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.

Petitions, Medicare, and Licensure

Notable news items in the acu-world this week:

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

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

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

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

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

LAcs = Tea Party & Acupuncture Today = Fox News?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

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.

Who is a Word-Trickster?

Will Morris, in Acupuncture Today, writes — ” ‘Word-tricksters’ – as I like to call them – change language in order to gain personal advantage.”

I haven’t received much input on my questions about nomenclature, but in my conversations with practitioners around the country I haven’t found any agreement or clarity about where acupuncture begins or ends.

I do have a question for Dr. Morris and the others who have been so insistent that the other professions should use “acupuncture” rather than “dry needling” or any other term. Would folks be happy with an outcome in which all professions agreed to use the term acupuncture for anything that used a filiform needle, but in which the LAc community still had no say in the regulations, education requirements, and scope for those professions?

The acupuncture community would not see that as a win. I believe that the people arguing for the global use of the term acupuncture are doing so because they think it will give them control over the procedure — that is, to gain personal advantage.  Doesn’t that make us the Word Tricksters?

In the meantime, based on youtube videos and discussions on various list serves, my colleagues are very interested in being able to draw distinctions between how they use needles and how the PT’s and others use needles.  Wouldn’t insisting on the use of the term “Dry Needling” help?

 

 

P.S.

I apologize for two posts in less than 12 hours.  I knew I shouldn’t have been working until 11:00 last night .  I accidentally published a draft of the Mine! post. Subscribers, please visit the site for the correct version of the post.

In the meantime, this morning I had a chance to review yesterday’s Health & Science section in The Washington Post and came across this article on myofascial pain.  I suppose I could get my knickers in a twist that the author finds relief from dry needling done by an MD, maybe even posting a comment about how she was putting life and limb in danger by seeing someone other than an LAc for this procedure.  Instead, I’m happy that she got relief. And, to be honest, I’m doubtful that my acupuncture training and experience taught me what I would have needed to know to give this particular patient that relief she’s found.

It’s Not Fair!!!

A Virginia colleague asked – “How is it that Chiropractors can do acupuncture and LAcs cannot do manipulations?”

Exploring why things are the way they are (here in Virginia, anyway) might help us move beyond the usual “we’re getting the short end of the stick again” attitude and could teach useful lessons about how the system works.

1)     How is it that DC’s can do acupuncture?

DCs, MDs, and DOs were doing acupuncture in Virginia, without incident, prior to licensure for LAcs. You can imagine the strong opposition that would have arisen from that powerful lobby if, despite our position that acupuncture was safe and effective, we now attempted to pass legislation that would have removed this technique from their scope. The role of regulation is to protect the public from danger, not ensure that people are limited to the “best” care. When the Dieticians introduce licensure legislation in Virginia (not yet successfully) – the Advisory Board on Acupuncture indicates that support of the Acupuncture community depends upon the LAcs retaining the ability to make dietary recommendations. The Dieticians might think our training in this area is grossly insufficient, but we can show a history of safe practice, and the state has no compelling reason to choose a winner and loser among professions in this case.

2)     Why can’t LAcs do manipulations?

The Virginia legislation specifically rules out PT, Chiropractic, and Osteopathic manipulations.  Since acupuncture training does not typically include Osteopathic, Chiropractic or PT adjustments, and since our exams don’t test knowledge of these techniques, it would have been difficult to counter the arguments of the existing providers that this should be excluded from our scope.  When the ND’s introduce legislation for licensure (so far unsuccessfully and not fully supported even within the ND community) the Advisory Board on Acupuncture always reports that support is dependent on language that would specifically exclude acupuncture from the ND scope.

If a Licensed Acupuncturist could show evidence of education in Tui Na manipulation techniques, included the technique in their informed consent, and was careful with insurance coding it would probably be acceptable.  A few years ago I would have suggested that a formal request be made to the Advisory Board to explore whether Tui Na manipulations were within scope. The board could have explored the issue and developed recommendations regarding education and documentation that would have put practitioners on solid ground.  However, our profession’s recent behavior regarding the PT Board’s similar discussions on TPDN have given our fellow health care providers many arguments they might be itching to throw back in our direction. You might want to check out Scope and Dry Needling for more background. This is probably not the best timing for requesting a formal ruling.

 

More Cross-Pollination

Once again, here is some writing I did for one of my listserve groups. This is in response to a conversation about the proper translation of jingmai from the Huang Di Nei Jing.

I’ve been hesitant to participate in this dialogue. I am not a Sinologist or deeply familiar with the Chinese Classics. Furthermore, my past experience with these sorts of debates is that at the conclusion we are all likely to feel further justified that we are right and everyone else is an idiot.  It isn’t all that unusual for these debates to devolve into personal attacks. The early comment in this thread regarding “their emotional but ungrounded negative responses” put the brakes on my initial desire to participate.

However, Matt’s inquiry re. the thread subject “Use of the concept of Meridians has Crippled the promotion of Acupuncture in the West” touches on issues that are near and dear to me.  Combined with his hope that others would get involved, I am finally going to offer a contribution.

Regarding the thesis that the term jingmai in the HDNJ was the blood vessels, again, this is not an area in which I have the expertise to come to a conclusion. Personally, I’d want to find out what Elizabeth Rochat and Heiner Fruehauf had to say on the matter. They are my personal experts when it comes to the Classics, the Chinese of the Classics, and a deep knowledge of Chinese Medicine itself. In Heiner’s case he also works and studies with practitioners with long unbroken lineages going back many generations.

From my initial training as a cultural anthropologist, I’d caution against the belief that there could be any direct one-to-one translation from a Classical Chinese term to the current use of Western anatomical term. Not only are we dealing with different languages, but different language families and different cultures.  I think Matt Bauer’s posts and writings addressed this.

My rudimentary knowledge of the Classics, along with my somewhat more developed experience as a practitioner, along with a quick read of even the most recent articles and our own conversations about mechanism of action make it seem unlikely that any practitioner or scholar of the past or present would think that when we are talking about the effective pathways of acupuncture that we mean the blood and blood vessels.

I don’t know what the myth of the Meridians is, exactly.  Can one of you explain? It seems like we have something of a straw man (or red herring?) here. Much of this conversation centers on dismissing a myth that none of you have described. Certainly I don’t know of any LAcs who refuse to accept any sort of modern scientific theory. I do know many LAcs who are, I believe, appropriately skeptical that the latest study or current understanding of how the body works is the total and complete truth.  Within my years of practice probiotics have gone from something that the western establishment dismissed with an eye roll to something they prescribe, and the appendix has gone from a worse than useless evolutionary vestige to a structure that may have important roles in the immune system and maintaining gut flora, to give only two examples.

Given the ever-evolving understanding of physiology and appreciation for the limits of what we currently know, along with the knowledge that the effect of acupuncture cannot be fully explained by blood vessels, I can’t see how insisting that the jingmai are blood vessels would serve the profession at all. Wouldn’t it be far more helpful to explore our languaging of the Meridians, making sure that all practitioners could describe their complexity, rather than substituting a term that doesn’t address that complexity? I fear using the term blood vessels would only further confuse the establishment.

As for what is behind the crippled promotion of acupuncture in West, is it crippled? Just this week I received an email Can Acupuncture Relieve Your Pain from WebMD, various emails about PT’s, MD’s, and others who are trying to “steal” our medicine, a notice of a job opening from one of the three acupuncture schools (of questionable quality) that have opened within 10 miles of my office, numerous requests for referrals for LAcs around the country, links to three different studies looking at acupuncture efficacy and mechanism of action, and news that POCA clinics did over 600,000 treatments in 2012 .  I also began treating an MD, and had several new clients referred to me by their MD’s, DC’s, or other providers. Overall, I’d have to say that Acupuncture is doing pretty damn well for itself in the West.

The promotion of the “profession”, though, that is a different question entirely. The debate over terminology does point to what I believe is the crux of the dysfunction within the profession.  When it comes to the risk/benefit analysis of accommodating ourselves to the trappings of the western medical establishment, most of us have strong feelings, and are rarely consistent about them even on a personal level, never mind across professional communities. Combine that conflict with the lack of trust, connection, mutual respect, and the venue necessary for exploring these issues in a productive way and the profession itself is certainly limping.