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Acupuncture Today – March, 2002, Vol. 03, Issue 03

And A Researcher Shall Lead Them

By Marilyn Allen, Editor-at-Large

The big news making the rounds at Acupuncture Today's offices this month is the results from the latest Acupuncture Poll held on our website in January. If you didn't stop by to take the poll, the question for January was relatively straightforward: "What is the most important issue facing the acupuncture and Oriental medicine profession in 2002?" (Editor's note: you can see the poll's results here.)

A total of 312 people responded to the poll.

Assuming that there are 15,000 licensed acupuncturists in the United States, and assuming that every person who responded was a licensed acupuncturist, this would mean that a little over two percent of the profession gave their opinion as to the most important issue currently facing our profession.

The most popular response, not surprisingly, had to do with scientific research (or the lack thereof). More than thirty-one percent of those responding said that producing more research that validates the safety and effectiveness of acupuncture was the most important issue facing the profession.

What do these numbers mean? First, the results show that acupuncturists understand the value of research, and that they realize that it's the only way this profession is going to survive and grow. Saying that acupuncture works simply because someone says "it works" isn't going to cut it anymore. The chiropractic profession tried that approach for years - and failed, for the most part -- before it came to its senses and started putting more funding into legitimate, scientifically sound studies. The fact is, it's time we started putting some of our money toward independent, objective acupuncture and Oriental medicine research, and I propose that the sooner we do so, the better.

I know there are some members in this profession for which my proposal will present something of a sticking point. I can just imagine some of them, sitting in their offices passing the time. "I've been practicing acupuncture for 25 years," I can hear them say. "I've worked on thousands of patients in my day. I've seen what it can do first-hand. I don't need some snot-nosed researcher in a lab coat and glasses to prove something I already know."

Maybe the old-time acupuncturists don't need proof, but other people do. Insurers, for instance. They're the ones who write health care policies and decide whether acupuncture is going to be included in a health care plan, and if so, how much practitioners will be reimbursed. Aside from consumer demand, how can acupuncture get covered by a health plan? Through research that demonstrates acupuncture's safety and effectiveness. I know of many acupuncturists who are struggling because they aren't seeing the number of patients needed to stay in practice. Being included in a health care plan would definitely solve the patient problem; research would solve the problem of how to win inclusion.

Legislators want proof, too. Other professions are making major strides legislatively. Naturopaths in Kansas, for instance, are pushing a bill that would require naturopathic doctors to be licensed and regulated. Naturopaths would also be allowed to practice acupuncture, which would give them a foothold in a state that currently has no acupuncture or Oriental medicine statute.

And just six weeks ago, Congress passed a new act that makes chiropractic a permanent benefit within the Department of Veterans Affairs' health care system. This means that millions of veterans and their families will now be able to enjoy the benefits of chiropractic care. Can they receive acupuncture? No. The chiropractic legislation has been in the works for years. During that same time, have the leaders in our profession done anything to advance - or even suggest - the use of acupuncture and Oriental medicine within the VA? Not that I am aware of. So here's another opportunity to expand our services into another market that we've let slip by. Perhaps it has something to do with a lack of research on the subject.

Members of other health care professions are another group that wants proof that acupuncture works. The goal of any health care provider - allopathic or vitalistic, Eastern-trained or Western-trained - is to get the patient well again. If it means referring out to another practitioner, so be it. But what self-respecting medical doctor or chiropractor will refer a patient to an acupuncturist if there's no solid proof that what the acupuncturist does has a chance of being successful?

Most of all, patients want proof of acupuncture's healing powers. They are the heart and soul of any acupuncturist's practice; without a steady stream of patients, most acupuncturists wouldn't be in business. Many patients already pay for treatment out-of-pocket because they believe it works, but that belief only goes so far. The fact is, belief does not equal proof. Think how many more patients would walk through your door, or how many more referrals you would receive, if you could present your patients and medical colleagues with a stack of studies that proves what you do really works.

There is hope for us, though. In the last year, Acupuncture Today has reported on the results of more than a dozen studies of acupuncture. We've written stories on the use of acupuncture for morning sickness; tennis elbow; migraine headaches; anxiety; vulvar vestibulitis; neck pain; substance abuse; gagging; knee pain; and plantar fasciitis. We've also reported on other components of traditional Chinese medicine, such as the use of garlic to fight infections; ginger for nausea and vomiting; qigong for stress reduction; and tai chi for pain and mobility.dicine, such as the use of garlic to fight infections; ginger for nausea and vomiting; qigong for stress reduction; and tai chi for pain and mobility.

The results of these studies may seem impressive, but they represent only a starting point. We need to see dramatic improvements in the quantity and quality of the acupuncture studies being published in the U.S. and abroad. Are we up to the task? I think we are. In fact, I know we are. We have to be, if we are to survive and thrive in the coming decades.

This is the year we stop being treated as weak sisters by the medical and chiropractic communities. They can't ignore us anymore. It's time we dig in, tighten our belts, and spend some money on research that proves beyond a doubt what people outside of America have known for thousands of years: that acupuncture is safe, cost-effective, and above all, that it works. Let's go out there and really make a difference this year.

Click here for more information about Marilyn Allen, Editor-at-Large.

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