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Acupuncture Today

The National Center for Complementary & Alternative Medicine was created in 1998 to explore healing practices in the context of rigorous science; to support “Complementary and Alternative Medicine” (CAM) researchers and to disseminate information to the public and professionals. Congress appropriated a budget of $117,752,000 in 2005.

The Institute of Medicine, a division of the National Academy of Science, released a report titled “CAM in the United States” (2005). The report includes research, statistics, and analysis of CAM, including the prevalence of CAM in the U.S. It found that:

  • CAM use was up from 34% to 42% between 1990-97.
  • The prevalence of vitamin, mineral, and herbal product use has increased in the United States. Dietary supplements are a major industry, responsible for $18.7 billion in sales in 2002.
  • The use of herbal remedies increased by 380%.
  • More than 1/3 of American adults routinely use CAM, spending more than $30 billion a year of their own money.
  • 75% of adults have used CAM at some time and that 62% had used some form of CAM therapy in the year 2004.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) states: “The data in support of acupuncture are as strong as those for many accepted Western medical therapies. One of the advantages of acupuncture is that the incidence of adverse effects is substantially lower than that of many drugs or other medical procedures used for the same conditions.” NIH Consensus p9

According to the 2002 National Health Interview Survey–the largest and most comprehensive survey of CAM use by American adults to date–an estimated 8.2 million U.S. adults had ever used acupuncture, and an estimated 2.1 million U.S. adults had used acupuncture in the previous year.

The aging of 78 million baby boomers will create numerous opportunities for CAM practitioners. Americans over 65 currently comprise 12 percent of the population; by 2050, they will make up 21 percent. More integral medicine practitioners who can respond to problems of aging are needed due to this trend.

Who Practices Acupuncture?

About the Field of Chinese Medicine

Acupuncture is a integral approach to health, focusing on improving the overall well being of a patient as it treats specific symptoms and problems. It can be used to treat a range of physical and emotional conditions including musculo-skeletal disorders, respiratory disorders and allergies, GI disorders, neurological disorders and the relief of chronic pain.



Key Points according to the National Institutes of Health

  • Acupuncture has been practiced in China and other Asian countries for thousands of years.
  • Scientists are studying the efficacy of acupuncture for a wide range of conditions.
  • Relatively few complications have been reported from the use of acupuncture. However, acupuncture can cause potentially serious side effects if not delivered properly by a qualified practitioner.

About an Acupuncture Treatment
Acupuncturists provide one-on-one consultations with their patients, using their skills and knowledge to treat a wide range of health problems. The first consultation may last up to an hour to allow the acupuncturist to take a detailed case history before making a Chinese medical diagnosis and beginning treatment. Subsequent sessions usually take about 30 minutes.

A treatment plan varies depending on the severity of the problem, some patients require only a few sessions, others require a longer term course of treatments.

Employment Characteristics

Activities of Acupuncturists typically involve:

  • Taking a detailed case history; questioning patients about their condition, physical and emotional health, lifestyle and diet.
  • Determining a patient’s pulse and tongue characteristics to make a traditional energetic style diagnosis making a diagnosis and devising a personalized treatment plan
  • Explaining the diagnosis and treatment to the patient and responding to their questions and concerns.
  • Inserting fine needles into the skin at particular locations to stimulate the energy flow along meridians (energy channels) and stimulate the body’s own healing response.
  • Incorporating other treatments such as moxibustion (diathermy), electro-acupuncture (microcurrent), acupressure, which loosens and relaxes muscles, and cupping (vasopneumatic dilation).
  • Assessing patient progress through questioning and examination and revising treatment plans if necessary; responding to a patient’s questions and concerns

Qualifications

  • Graduation from a college accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. This requires a minimum of three academic years of study and internship.
  • Certification by the National Commission for the Certification of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.
  • A State License to practice.

Career Characteristics

In practice, acupuncturists use their skills and knowledge to treat a wide range of health problems. During the first visit, they take a detailed case history, using pulse, tongue and other examinations to make a Chinese medicine diagnosis. They assess how eating habits and life style issues may have lead to or are aggravating the problem.
Then, if in an integral medicine setting, they develop the traditional Chinese medicine portion of a complementary care plan in collaboration with the primary physician and other members of the healthcare team. During a return visit, the success of prior treatments is evaluated. Patient compliance with food or life style recommendations is determined. The same acupoints are continued or modified, based on the new presentation. Goals for healthy eating and lifestyle changes may be changed based upon the patient’s motivation and complications.


What is the level of salary and workload?

Acupuncturists work in a variety of settings, including independent practices, hospitals, treatment centers, and community health centers. Acupuncturist practitioners also work in specialist and complementary health care clinics for asthma, pain management, addictions, and stroke rehabilitation.
As independent health care providers, the majority of acupuncturists work for private practices or are self-employed. Acupuncture practitioners may share workspace with other health care providers.

Typical starting salaries

Salaried Acupuncturists typically earn the equivalent of an experienced physical therapist. Salaries may vary based on locale, experience and a host of other factors.

Complementary Care

The practice of Acupuncture in a modern practice often includes, in addition to needle insertion, the therapeutic skills of acupressure massage, moxibustion, and cupping. Bringing Oriental Medicine into your office not only brings this range of highly effective treatment techniques to your patients; it shows them that you appreciate the effects of both internal and external stresses in health and disease. It shows patients that your office is the best place to find a reputable integrative healthcare practitioner who will provide complementary care under your direction.

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM part of the NIH) and AARP Survey

NCCAM and AARP recently partnered on a survey to measure and understand communication practices between patients age 50 or older and their physicians. The survey confirms that while patients are seeking CAM care they often do not discuss this decision with their doctor.

What Did the Survey Find?

  • Nearly 2/3 of the respondents (63%) have used one or more CAM therapy.
  • Of those age 50 or older who use CAM, more than two-thirds (69%) did not talk to their physicians about it.
  • More than 1/2 of respondents (56%) who had talked about CAM with their physician said they—not their physician— had initiated the discussion.
  • For respondents who talked with their providers about CAM, the topics most frequently discussed were the effectiveness of a CAM therapy (67%), what to use (64%), how a CAM therapy might interact with other medications or treatments they receive (60%), advice on whether or not to pursue a CAM therapy (60%), and the safety of a CAM therapy (57%).
  • Of those who have used CAM, two-thirds did so to treat a specific condition (66%) and for overall wellness (65%).
  • Nearly 3/4 of respondents (74%) said they take one or more medications.

Billing for Acupuncture

Having an Acupuncturist on your staff will give you a new way to solve some of the simple, but troublesome problems that you see every day in your office. It is one of only a few natural healing professions where practitioners are National Board Certified, legally licensed to practice and carry malpractice insurance.

What is the Cost for an Acupuncture Treatment?

Nationwide, the cost for an acupuncture treatment can vary between $50 and $125. Some practitioners may provide several modalities for this one fee, others may bill separately for each modality. Due to the relatively low cost, many people pay for acupuncture out of pocket.

An Overview of Insurance Coverage

More and more insurance companies are reimbursing for acupuncture treatments and more employees are getting acupuncture insurance coverage in their healthcare plans. About 47% of employees with health plans had acupuncture coverage in 2004, the Wall Street Journal reported from published results of a 3,000-employer survey.
The Journal article suggested that the increase in insurance coverage for acupuncture represents “a trend … in which alternative medicine has gone more mainstream,” with employers seeing employee insurance benefits for alternative and complementary medicine as potentially reducing overall healthcare insurance coverage costs.

Coding for Diagnostics and Procedures

The American Acupuncture Council has published a guide called AcuCode 2008: Acupuncture Guide to Coding. It lists ICD codes for diagnostics that are being accepted for insurance reimbursement. It also lists the codes for various Oriental and physical medicine procedures performed by Acupuncturists. See www.aacinfonetwork.com.

Participating Health Insurance Providers Include:

  • Aetna
  • BlueCross / BlueShield
  • Cigna Healthcare / United Healthcare
  • American Whole Health Networks

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