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Acupuncture Today – September, 2006, Vol. 07, Issue 09

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States

By Marilyn Allen, Editor-at-Large

As the problems of the world continue to shrink our borders - the decrease in natural resources, the increase in global warming, and the growing population - we are all becoming more and more aware of the benefits of cooperation between countries and the exchange of medical and technological information.

Health care, one of the key issues facing the world at large, has reached an all-time high in terms of cost and expenses in the U.S., and there is no end in sight.

Although the countries of the Pacific Rim, as divided by the World Health Organization (WHO), do not include the U.S., they have chosen to share their traditional medicine with the world, and for this, we thank them. Although traditional medicine is not being fully utilized in the U.S., the Pacific Rim countries - China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam and Australia - are working together to establish standards for both herbal formulations and acupuncture points to be used worldwide.

You may ask, what does this have to do with the WHO? The WHO, along with other groups of physicians from around the world, has created, written and standardized all of the classifications of diseases. In the U.S., we use the ICD-9 codes for diagnosis on CMS forms to obtain reimbursement from insurance companies for you and your office, or for your patients. There have always been questions and discussion about why there are no codes for TCM, acupuncture, Korean Oriental medicine, or whatever name you choose. The countries from the Pacific Rim have come together and agreed by consensus to create, write and distribute a classification of codes to represent these types of medical interventions. This will include both herbal formulations and acupuncture points.

This decision means many hours of diligent labor, tireless effort on the part of many professionals, and an economic impact on these countries and their various resources. This decision and effort will result in aide for untold millions around the world. This truly is an act of compassion for the global population.

The third Informal Consultation of the Development of Classification of East Asian Traditional Medicine (CEATM), as it was named in the beginning of the process, was convened recently in Seoul, Korea. Jeannie Kang, LAc, a practitioner from the Los Angeles area who is bilingual and well-versed in both acupuncture and traditional herbal formulations, was invited as a temporary advisor (this is because the U.S. is not officially part of the Pacific Rim countries); I was given the opportunity to sit as an observer and media relations liaison. The American Association of Oriental Medicine (AAOM) was presented with this invitation and we attended on its behalf, representing the practitioners of the U.S. By the end of the meeting, the group had reached consensus that Traditional Medicine should be the term used to represent medicine as practiced by thousands of CAM providers in the countries where Oriental medicine has it origins and roots. The group also decided this process should be one with a goal of international classification of traditional medicine.

The group that met in Seoul was composed of delegations from China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam and Australia. The meeting was conducted in English, which certainly helped me follow and understand the discussions. Seung-Hoon Choi, OMD, PhD, is the regional advisor for traditional medicine for WHO, which is headquartered in Manila, Philippines. He opened the meeting and welcomed the group. A representative from the Korean Oriental Medicine Society reminded the group that "Traditional medicine is a revolutionary medicine that can brighten the future of mankind." Dr. Choi from WHO-PRO introduced Dr. T. Bedirhan Ustun, the head of international classification for WHO, headquartered in Geneva. Dr. Ustun challenged the participants to the task, stating several points:

  • standardization with evidence as the base;
  • standardization raises the levels of quality;
  • standardization helps with the global banding of scientific technology;
  • standardization produces economic development;
  • standardization produces a better level of care for patients; and
  • standardization helps to share information worldwide.

Dr. Ustun stated, "Health information is the glue that holds a health system together." J.W. Lee, the past general director, stated, "To make people count, we first need to be able to count people." Standardization is an essential element in this process.

The meeting was chaired by Kenji Watanabe, MD, PhD, associate professor, Department of Kampo Medicine, Keio University School of Medicine, Japan; and Charlie Xue, associate professor, RMIT University, Australia. Under such expert leadership and guidance, the participants reached numerous objectives:

  • to reach a consensus on the need to develop CEATM using ICD-10;
  • to join resources to develop the classification to avoid duplication;
  • to conduct clinical trials to facilitate research;
  • to promote the education of traditional medicine worldwide;
  • to facilitate data collection and statistics to promote policy development and allocate resources; and
  • to exchange the electronic or other forms of health information records.

The countries agreed that a listing of patterns and syndromes would be compiled by the next meeting. The countries submitted their lists by July 31, 2006 and they will be presented at the next meeting in November. This process will take several years before completion.

This is a very positive step forward for the acupuncture community in the U.S. The practitioners and patients in our country will benefit from these efforts. We all thank the delegations from the Pacific Rim for their ideas, time and interest in this outstanding medicine.

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

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