An Acupuncturist Looks for Balance

How do I help the greatest number of people?

The wisdom of Acupuncture/East Asian Medicine has improved my health and the health of my clients for more than two decades. Throughout that time I’ve worked with professional regulation, legislation, and our organizations, with the goal of increasing public access to the full benefits of this medicine.

My involvement in the political sphere of our profession has taken significant qi that I could have used to study the medicine, improve my technical skills, and increase my own well being.  Most days at my clinic include at least one moment when I know that with deeper study I could have provided better care.

This fall I felt that I should choose, Practitioner or Advocate? My clients weren’t getting my best. Could I find a way to support myself through advocacy and leave my practice? Would I be happier if I focused on the intellectual challenge of working toward a widely shared vision of success for the profession, and developing a path to that success? Or should I leave the advocacy work and focus on my patients? In the clinic the appreciation doesn’t carry a side order of harassment and ill will. When I treat I see the positive impact of acupuncture and Asian medicine every day.

It’s winter. I’ve been taking a break. I can’t quite follow the Nei Ching and sleep until the sun rises, but I’ve stepped back. I’ve read the communications from ACAOM and the AAAOM (and this, and this (apologies for it being post-deadline, it was hidden), followed the complaints about health insurance (what it costs, what it covers, what it pays, the work involved in getting those payments), wondered about our dry needling strategy, and pondered whether blogging about these things is “worth” the qi.

It’s still winter….

 

 

 

 

Gainful Employment and Strategic Errors

The Gainful Employment final regulations have been announced. Forgive my commenting prior to a complete and thorough analysis of the 941 page document. (You can see some analysis here.) The gist is that for-profit schools (which includes half of US acupuncture programs) will soon have to show that graduates’ student loan payments are manageable with the profession’s available employment (not taking IBR into account). If they can’t, federally guaranteed student loans will no longer be available.

Why should taxpayers continue to provide loans for educations that history shows aren’t worth the investment? Imagine tuition rates and post-graduate employment assistance if the schools provided and guaranteed loans, and took the hit if they weren’t paid back in a timely fashion.

It is no surprise that for-profit schools are displeased about the impending end of the gravy train. Many for-profit schools, and their related organizations, did everything they could to block the regulations. And, just under the wire, the acu-educational establishment contributed comments (see ACAOM gainful employment word).

(The more expensive FPD, and pressure away from “acupuncture-only” degrees now carry a significant downside for the schools.)

Did ACAOM think their letter might exempt them from the rules or impact the final regulations? It seems unlikely that this little community would shift the tide. It was an unforced error for ACAOM to write a letter that reveals such little concern for graduates and such a strong desire to dodge responsibility. (Some of the more significant issues in ACAOM’s letter are discussed here.)

But our own strategic errors have allowed ACAOM and other other alphabets to disregard our well-being.

The petition that asked the alphabets to stop denying their role in our circumstances received 227 signatures. Petitions to stop dry needling often receive thousands of signatures. Which is more likely to limit professional success — a school that leaves students with extensive debt, poor business skills, and no job placement or alumni support, or a little competition? If we can’t survive the competition from those “untrained” professionals our education is surely lacking.

The Feds and the taxpayers pay a price when schools sell an education for far more than it is worth. We graduates pay a far more personal price. It’s too late for us, but at least the Feds are willing to look out for the interests of those who will follow in our footsteps.

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 – https://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 — https://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.

 

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.

It’s Like Herding Cats

It’s a common refrain about reaching consensus in the acupuncture profession. But why try to herd cats? I learned a long time ago that opening a can of tuna would bring kitty running.

If there were an attainable action that would:

  • Increase patient access to Licensed Acupuncturists,
  • Assist in national marketing for the profession,
  • Decrease educational costs and student debt,
  • Decrease licensing expenses,
  • Increase political power,
  • Expand professional opportunities, flexibility, and mobility, and,
  • Increase the value of your practice,

Would that be like tuna to a kitty?

(Whirrr of can opener)

Tuna for me = Identifying the least restrictive licensure requirements necessary to protect the public and create successful practitioners and working to establish that as a standard in all states.

Before panic ensues, consider some of the situations I’ve heard about in the past few years:

  • Highly experienced and qualified LAcs unable to obtain licensure, even in states where there are so few LAcs that the public has little choice but to get their acupuncture treatment from Chiropractors.
  • Practitioners who want to sell their practices but have a limited pool of buyers because of the unique licensure requirements in their state.
  • Practitioners travelling many, many hours in order to practice, or leaving the profession, because life has taken them to a state in which they can’t obtain a license.
  • Practitioners and students who have no interest in using herbs being required to spend tens of thousands of dollars and thousands of hours learning herbal medicine in order to obtain an acupuncture license.
  • Acupuncturists supporting discriminatory laws or regulations such that the only group of people in a state who can not practice herbal medicine are other Acupuncturists.
  • Practitioners having to maintain licenses in multiple states because changing regulations mean that if they give up a license they will be unable to obtain it in that state again.
  • Acupuncturists being unable to advance reasonable state or national legislation because restrictive practices keep practitioner numbers so low that political support is unavailable.
  • The profession being unable to effectively educate the public about their excellent education and credentials because those credentials vary so much from state to state.
  • Acupuncturists struggling to build a practice in overserved areas, but unable to obtain licensure in nearby underserved areas.
  • Acupuncture organizations fighting for inclusion in managed care and federal health programs, even though many states have too few LAcs to serve the population. (Demographic data can be found at these links: Acupuncture Today LAc Map, US Population, Physicians per State.)

The current system in which some states require graduation from particular schools, others have their own exams, and others have their own educational requirements does not serve us as a profession. The situation is getting worse, not better, as states like Florida increase their requirements. Yes, states have differing scopes. (Those who advocate for scope changes should be required to consider and advertise the impact the changes will have on licensure requirements.) Yes, it is in the interest of the public and the profession to insist that practitioners limit their practice to the tools and skills in which they have been trained. Additional, optional, training can always be required for those who wish to practice more advanced techniques or modalities. The least restrictive licensure requirements have shown themselves to be sufficient for safe practice.

Limited, standardized, licensure requirements would lower practitioner expenses, promote mobility, ease national marketing, and help the profession grow. It sounds great — as good as tuna smells to a cat. Does it make you make you want to come running? Many changes in licensure requirements could be made at the regulatory level and are within our reach. It does not depend on establishing reciprocity. One problem — the LAcs within a state have the power to make or block change, and, especially in restrictive states, the small group that set up the rules is often in power. Another problem — many LAcs don’t care about this until they are directly impacted.

This is a place where national coordination is needed. I hope the CSA sees that this is a place where they could make a positive difference. Let your state association know if you support a more standardized and simpler licensure environment. It should not require any herding.

Cat Food

Cat Food

 

 

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.)

“Join your Acupuncture Organization!”

We’ve all heard it, along with “we are doing the best we can with the resources we have” and, “if you participate you can help set our direction.” Heck, I’ve said those things.

Yet membership in most organizations is steady or declining. News of trouble in the AAAOM was met with a yawn. Many acupuncturists are active, involved, motivated people in general, so why do so many of our voluntary organizations struggle?

In a Facebook conversation regarding the AAAOM a current board member wrote “…if we were to have had one failure as an organization … it has been our challenges in staying in touch … to keep everyone up to date about what we’re doing, what we’re facing and how we’re being successful. I can see how not hearing from us creates space for concern and allows the possibility to misinterpret truth from reality.” If there has been one failure??

Another board member dismissed the recent resignations as a necessary step in getting “like-minded” folks on the board. Then, as the day follows the night, the conversation pivoted to a plea for unity, so we could get the big things done, like the FPD. (There’s a unifying topic.)

Having served on the board of my state association for years I remember the difficulty of trying to do much with little. Yet my recent offer [early 2014] to teach members about strategic policy planning was quickly dismissed with “no one would come, but if you write something we’ll distribute it.”  And my recent attempts to communicate with board members (whom I consider to be my friends and respected colleagues) about some of the association’s positions were dismissed with “the membership elects the board and the board sets the agenda” and “I know there are differences but I don’t care about the details.”

Is it any surprise that struggling practitioners aren’t convinced that joining and participating in these organizations will produce results?

One membership organization is doing well. As of February 15th POCA had 1569 members, including 242 clinic memberships (which each include one practitioner membership) and an additional 653 practitioner memberships. It isn’t easy to get membership figures for other acupuncture organizations, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that POCA currently has the largest practitioner membership of the national voluntary acupuncture organizations. (POCA’s 895 patient membership isn’t too shabby either.) POCA doesn’t claim or try to be the organization for everyone, but it has one heck of a mission and is clearly doing a few things right.

Here’s a real kick in the gut — did you know that a group of AOM Leaders has been meeting since 2005 to “promote the general interest of the acupuncture profession”? The next meeting will be held in just a few weeks. Look at the list of past attendees. Who is representing your needs and interests to this group?  Who decides on the participants? Has POCA been invited? Have any of the participants investigated why so few practitioners (who invested in the expensive education, sat for the expensive exams, maintain the expensive credentials) join their acupuncture organizations?  It is not because we are a young profession and it is not because we are cats, difficult to herd.

Is the message that the interest of “the profession” doesn’t include the interests of practitioners?

Last week’s poll was a tie, so this post is a mash-up.  There is plenty to explore regarding our acupuncture organizations. For now, it’s time come up with a plan.  How do we get the “leaders” to consider the needs of those they claim to lead? Don’t say by joining groups that don’t seem to care.

AAAOM News Flash

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

Petitions, Medicare, and Licensure

Notable news items in the acu-world this week:

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

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

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

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

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

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?