Cooperation with the traditional medical establishment could offer an area of growth for acupuncture practitioners, but it will require persuasion and cooperation where historically distrust exists.
Fortunately, western-trained medical doctors often come around to the benefits of acupuncture and other aspects of Traditional Chinese Medicine when they see the results of its application.
Still, you can expect the process to be long and involved.
What gets in the way
As you know from experience, traditionally trained doctors are often skeptical of the benefits of alternative medicines. They won’t be persuaded until their own patients start to ask for different treatments. While medical doctors sometimes introduce acupuncture and other treatments into their practices, the patients are usually the first to ask about new ways to deal with pain.
Some physicians are resistant to alternative medicines because they know the doctor must spend more time with each patient than western medicine requires. With pressure from insurance companies and medical practices, doctors attempt to spend no more than 15 minutes per patient. Longer visits reduce their billing.
And pharmaceutical companies exert a powerful force on the medical industry. Joni Renee Zalk, MSc, Lac, wrote in “The Challenges of Integrating Eastern and Western Medicine,” that “The pharmaceutical industry is a powerful and profitable $400 billion per year beast of an industry” with an inherent bias against natural healing.
The way forward
The future might be defined by hospital administrators. The best among them constantly search for ways to save money by improving patient outcomes. As a result, more hospitals are incorporating acupuncture and other aspects of TCM, which in turn introduces the practice to individual physicians.
Hartford Hospital in Connecticut integrated TCM into its daily operations. The process took years, led by a committed group that built trust with stakeholders within the institution and in the surrounding community.
Among the facts that prompted the administrators was the realization that “people were spending huge amounts of money on vitamins, supplements, and herbs, but not telling their MD’s about this usage. They were also not revealing to their doctors that they had seen an alternative practitioner.”
As this report shows, implementation was methodical and thorough, so that everyone involved understood the process and could buy in.
After integration of traditionally western and eastern practices, the hospital found that “Patients love being offered these healing options. Most patients rate the services as excellent and would want the service offered again. Patient satisfaction is improved.”
What you can do
If you are committed to working with medical doctors to integrate your practice more fully into patients’ treatment, begin by finding out what your local hospitals currently do. Connect with administrators by inviting them to a meeting individually or at your local NGAOM chapter. You can also start the conversation with physicians you know personally. You should always be talking with local legislators to ensure they understand the benefits that acupuncture offers in treatment and cost, and be ready to testify in favor of proposed laws that benefit the profession.
Increasing the integration of acupuncture into the medical establishment takes time and work, but it should pay benefits for both patients and the profession.