9-11: One Year Later

By Marilyn Allen, Editor-at-Large

It hardly seems possible that one year has passed since the terrible events of September 11, 2001. As we reflect over what has happened since then, we have witnessed so many occurrences in which acupuncturists have helped people through tough times. Many acupuncturists have related to me that they are seeing more patients who suffer from fatigue, difficulty sleeping, mental imbalances and other stress-related issues because of what happened.

We have endeavored to report to you many of the positive things that have occurred in relation to, or as a direct result of, the tragedies at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. (See the article on the NADA conference for a report on Jane Siobhan Dolan and the work she and other acupuncturists performed at St. Vincent's Hospital in New York City.) There we so many heroes, like Jane, who worked long hours and helped people heal, both at Ground Zero and across the country. Again, thank you for all you have done. You have helped hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people begin the healing process and come to grips with their experiences from that day.

So many things have changed because of September 11. Even our profession has changed. I have noticed two types of changes in acupuncturists in the past year. On the one hand, I've noticed some are becoming more introspective, withdrawn. They're not seeing as many patients, perhaps because they want to take more time to focus on who they are and what really matters to them. I cannot blame anyone for feeling this way. I have felt this way myself a few times in the past year.

On the other hand, some acupuncturists have taken what happened on 9-11 and realized that there won't always be time to tell a friend or loved one how you really feel; that you don't always get a second chance to make things right. These people are dealing with a terrible situation by trying to get as much out of life as possible. In addition to maintaining a practice, they're renewing acquaintances with old friends; they're going on trips or buying things that they normally would have put off until "next year"; they they're telling relatives and loved ones how they really feel. They're not holding back anymore.

I say it's time for our profession to wake up and stop holding itself back. This article is not just about looking back and reflecting about what could have been; it's about looking ahead and taking charge of your surroundings, and it's time we started moving forward.

So how do we move forward and meet the challenges in front of us? A good place to start is to figure out exactly what's challenging us. There are many issues that need to be discussed - unfair managed care networks that pay a fraction of what our treatment is really worth; language barriers; biased hospital administrators who won't allow acupuncture to be practiced in their facilities; journals that continue to publish negative articles about acupuncture and Asian healing; a lack of national acupuncture legislation; lobbyists from other health care fields who try to have acupuncture laws rewritten or emasculated; and leaders who claim to represent the majority opinion, but are really just looking out for themselves.

Now that we know what our challenges are, how do we address them? Here are my suggestions:

Managed care networks. Managed care networks are the middlemen between insurance companies and providers. The insurance companies know that patients are asking for acupuncture; they also know that providers want to be paid fairly for their services. We deserve the same rights and reimbursement schedules as medical doctors, chiropractors and other health care professionals. To obtain our rights, our national and local organizations must join forces with patients to negotiate with managed care networks to ensure that coverage and reimbursement will be fair and reasonable for all sides.

Language barriers. The inability to communicate can have a damaging effect on our profession. Some TCM schools have addressed this task by hiring ESL (English as a second language) instructors to work with students to improve language skills. I applaud this idea and would like to see it expanded nationwide.

Biased hospital administrators. While more hospitals are opening their doors to offer acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine, the majority of hospitals do not allow acupuncturists to practice on-site. At the very least, we should campaign to have limited hospital privileges, or to allow acupuncturists to give demonstrations of treatment. This will allow MDs and nurses to see us practice first-hand, and it may change the opinions of some people who doubt acupuncture's effectiveness.

Negative articles. Many journal editors and medical organizations continue to cling to the narrow belief that the randomized, controlled trial (RCT) is the gold standard by which all scientific studies must be measured. If the RCT format is what's going to break down the barriers and get us noticed, then let's put more money into research and give these people so many good RCTs that they won't be able to ignore us. If we want to beat them at their own game, we'll have to play by their rules (at least, for the time being).

Lack of national legislation/lobbyists that try to rewrite the law. I lumped these challenges into one group because they do go hand-in-hand. One reason we don't have national acupuncture legislation, or acupuncture laws in the books in every state, is because lobbyists from other groups have campaigned to keep this from happening. It's time we turned the tables on these lobbyists. We need to target the remaining states that don't have acupuncture laws in place - especially in an election year like 2002 - and then work toward having national legislation introduced. We also need to put our political might to use by registering to vote and supporting candidates that favor acupuncture and Oriental medicine.

Questionable leadership. This is the most important challenge facing our profession. We need to know that our leaders have our best interests at heart, and that they are doing everything they can to move us forward. If they will not or cannot do the job, we must wipe the slate clean and bring in people who can.

One year ago, our country became united and rose to meet the challenge. It's time for our profession to do the same.

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

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