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Acupuncture Today – October, 2010, Vol. 11, Issue 10

Defining the Future of Traditional Medicine

By Marilyn Allen, Editor-at-Large

Every time you examine and/or assess a new patient or re-examine an old one, you must think about the formulation of a diagnosis. If you are interacting with the insurance industry by billing a patient's health insurance company or filling out a superbill for your patient to be reimbursed, you must give careful consideration to your clinical assessment and express it so that it conforms to Western International Classification of Disease (ICD) coding.

These codes are used throughout the world. The codes are formulated, stored and maintained under the leadership of the World Health Organization (WHO). These diagnostic codes are updated approximately every 10 to 20 years. The current revision project is due to be completed by 2014. This is when the general assembly of WHO votes on the revision. This date seems a long way off, but the revision process takes several years.

This current revision by the WHO (in consultation with a large number of countries around the world), in the field of traditional medicine, includes Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Health Information Systems. WHO has developed a collaborative project plan to produce an international standard terminology and classification system for traditional medicine. This simply means that, working with many acupuncturists, traditional medicine providers, or Asian medicine providers from around the world, a set of diagnostic codes has been established. These codes will be formulated using Eastern terminology and numerals to integrate into the already-established ICD coding system.

There are several reasons behind the move toward implementing codes for traditional medicine. Below, I have outlined just a few of them. Acupuncture, along with other forms of traditional medicine, is a significant part of health care commonly used around the world. The Alma-Ata Declaration on Primary Care (1978) called on numerous countries and governments to include the practice of traditional medicine within their primary health care approach. More than thirty years have passed since then, and these forms of medicine have continued to grow in use and acceptance.

The most recent WHO resolution on traditional medicine (2009) urges its Member States to formulate national policies, regulations and standards, as part of comprehensive national health care systems, to promote appropriate, safe and effective use of traditional medicine to strengthen the ability of the global health care system to provide primary care.

Current health care information systems about traditional medicine are not adequate. Or, to put it another way: Traditional medicine does not count unless we count traditional medicine.

The current data-collection services for traditional medicine are frequently not integrated within national or international health information systems. We need this information regarding acupuncture not only to help us determine the best treatments for our patients, but to also be able to eloquently state our case that acupuncture does work and is effective.

Local traditional medicine knowledge exists, but there is a lack of international harmonization. This information needs to be globally standardized so research can be conducted throughout the world. An international standardization of traditional medicine information is essential in order to gather data on form, frequency and outcomes to include in various health care information systems.

Integrating traditional medicine into conventional health care information systems will improve efficiency. This process will make it possible for the traditional medicine terminologies and classification to be merged with the WHO Family of International Classifications (WHO-FIC). Digitalization of health information provides an opportunity for information on traditional medicine to be included in the computerized health care information systems around the world. Electronic records are on their way by 2014-2015.

It is time that we join in the support of traditional medicine. These ICD codes will help to define acupuncture and traditional medicine as an important profession. Acupuncture is growing in numbers of practitioners, patients and people seeking a non-Western alternative relief from their various ailments. Let us help those numbers to grow as much as possible.

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

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