It is 7:00 p.m. on a Friday night, and I have just entered the office of Dr. Lin in New York City. The reception room is furnished with 18 red leather chairs, each one of which is occupied. The office looks to be extremely busy. After the reception room was empty and the patients were each settled in one of the 12 treatment rooms, the doctor came out to greet us.
While the patients were all receiving their treatments, I looked carefully at the front desk. There were huge, double-sided filing cabinets that rolled back and forth on tracks. This allows for easy access and secure locking for privacy. The front desk was staffed by three uniformed employees. These employees greeted patients, processed their charts, completed paperwork, gave herbal formulas and collected fees. I realized as I left the office that there was no question that I was in a doctor's office. The next day, on Saturday, I was invited to visit another office. This one was on the 12th floor of a high-rise building in downtown Manhattan. The office was also full. The 10 treatment rooms were each full and people were seated, waiting for their appointment. There was a receptionist who greeted each patient and also collected the fees.
The similarities in both cases were quite striking. In both these offices I observed personnel wore uniforms; acupuncturists wore clean, pressed clinic coats; all the male practitioners were wearing shirts and ties; there was handicapped access both to the buildings and throughout the offices; there also were clean rest rooms with handicap access; employees were pleasant, friendly, and well-informed; patient records were well-documented, complete and accurate; there was a healthy balance of cash and insurance patients.
You may be wondering why I chose to write about these two offices. Well, I was so impressed by what I saw and experienced in terms of the professionalism each office displayed. It reinforced for me that there are practitioners running full-time practices, seeing and treating many sick people, being paid for their efforts, and making a very adequate living for both themselves and their families and staff. Exactly where all of us in acupuncture and Oriental medicine need to be headed.
The Year of the Tiger is just beginning to start on its journey, so now is the time to protect and promote Oriental medicine in the U.S., starting with your own practice. As springtime is approaching, ask yourself if your practice is where you want it to be? Do you want to treat more patients? If so, how many do you want to see? Do you present a plan of care to each new patient and give them time to ask questions and accept the recommendations? Do they know what you have found regarding their health, how many treatments you recommend, and over what period of time? Do you schedule multiple appointments on the first or second visit? Do your patients have a variety of options for making payments? Is your practice supporting your lifestyle to your satisfaction? In short: do you want your practice to proudly represent AOM in the same manner as the offices I described? If the answer is no to even one of the above questions, it is time to spring into action. The hardest thing is to decide what you want because when you decide and believe it you can achieve it.
After reflecting on my visits in New York, I believe even more firmly that this medicine is the necessary ingredient for health care in the United States. The knowledge and skill of TCM were evident when you looked at these doctors. You realized that patients had come seeking relief from their infirmities and had received it.
This, in turn, brought me to where this profession is in the discussion surrounding doctoral degrees, whether they be entry-level doctorates, postgraduate doctorates, or in some other form. This profession must grow and take its rightful and necessary place in integrative medicine. We must continue to study and not stop others from practicing what they want because of political and philosophical differences. If we wish to be treated as medical professionals, we must act like medical professionals, looking at the examples of those two offices I mentioned.
I have tried to remain neutral in this discussion, but it seems to me we are criticizing and fighting amongst ourselves. Some are opposed to managed-care fees, but it gives many people access to the medicine. Some are opposed to what specialty TCM medicine, such as fertility medicine, but this also supplies more people with access to AOM.
Some oppose insurance, but this also provides access. It seems to me in this profession, there should be room for everybody, without rancor or anger.
In this New Year let us strive to tell more good stories about AOM and serve more patients, regardless of technique, method, or business or corporate structures.
Click here for more information about Marilyn Allen, Editor-at-Large.