There are two ways to look at the numbers about acupuncture patients in the United States. On one hand, the latest surveys show more Americans are taking advantage of acupuncture. But overall numbers are still low – well below 5% of the population.
That leaves room for opportunity. And the industry has open paths to boost patient usage and confidence in the practice.
However, critics from Western medicine continue to disparage acupuncture and other complementary approaches, which may stop some people from visiting an acupuncturist. Fortunately, one of the greatest sources of new patients is referrals from those who have already tried acupuncture, indicating proof of treatment as well as satisfaction with outcomes.
The patient base is growing
Northwestern Health Sciences University, citing a study by the Department of Labor, reported that jobs for acupuncturists would grow by 12% between 2014 and 2024. At 2.3 million new positions, that’s nearly three times faster than the national average for all jobs.
The publication “Global Advances in Health and Medicine,” noted in 2014 that acupuncture “has become more and more popular, evolving into one of the most utilized forms of complementary integrative medicine interventions in the United States. In fact, more than 10 million acupuncture treatments are administered annually in the United States alone. Its rise in popularity, particularly in the West, can be attributed in part to its effectiveness for pain relief and in part to the fact that scientific studies have begun to prove its efficacy.”
The latest National Health Interview Survey, conducted intermittently by the U.S. Census Bureau, also indicated that acupuncture use among American adults is continuing to rise.
An analysis of the study published in “Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine” shows that in 2002, about 2 million people, or 1.1% of the population, had used acupuncture within the previous 12 months. By 2007, the latest year of the federal study, the number of patients had expanded to 3 million, a 50% increase in five years.
Explaining treatment is important
Almost half of patients surveyed sought acupuncture treatment because their conventional treatments didn’t work. Importantly, the researchers noted that “the best timing for acupuncture treatment may have passed when the patient finally visits an acupuncture practitioner after trying everything else. Such delay may decrease the effectiveness of acupuncture treatment. In addition, some patients are skeptical and may likely discontinue treatment if they do not feel results right away.”
Practitioners can address that problem by explaining what they are working to achieve with each patient, how many sessions treatment may take, and the theory of how acupuncture works. Using easy-to-understand language, without medical jargon, is key to helping patients understand their treatment.
“We cannot ignore the fact that nearly half of the respondents used acupuncture because their family or friends recommended it,” the researchers wrote. “Acupuncture practitioners may want to keep in mind that every single patient could be an advocate for acupuncture use. A treatment session could also be a good opportunity of providing appropriate acupuncture education.”
Addressing negative voices
It is also likely that many people seeking acupuncture have already heard opinions that question acupuncture’s value, as this article in Science-Based Medicine demonstrates.
“ ‘Western conventional medicine’ is characterized by the rational application of science to healthcare practices, one feature of which is determining efficacy and safety, as best we can, in advance of using any particular treatment,” the article states. “But ‘Western conventional medicine’ doesn’t have to be the exclusive repository of those characteristics. Any healthcare discipline or practice can take up science and evidence as its standard. Acupuncture, chiropractic and naturopathy are, in varying degrees, Western, conventional and medicine, but none is all of those. Yet any of these disciplines is more than welcome to employ science and evidence, as are the dietary supplement or homeopathic industries. But they don’t, or at least not consistently or reliably.”
This view is common among doctors who practice Western medicine, even as many have come to endorse a greater acceptance of acupuncture and other complementary medicines. Education — particularly with patients and potential patients — is the way to address such attacks. Speaking to legislators and asking for invitations to medical seminars could also be useful as we – individually and as a profession – seek to grow our customer base.
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