This article is the second in a series designed to provide potential “acupuncture champions” with the information, perspectives, strategies, and tools necessary to successfully integrate acupuncture into their own clinics and medical centers.

Health care professionals think a lot about integrating acupuncture into conventional medicine settings. How do I know? Recently, I discovered a fascinating study conducted in 2015 around this very topic.

“We conducted a systematic review and a thematic synthesis of qualitative studies that analyzed the integration of acupuncture into conventional medicine grounded in participants’ perspectives,” state the authors1.

This makes sense to me. No matter how much hospitals try to provide a comprehensive solution to patients, there are always those patients who want something else, something more. Acupuncture is increasingly popular and is requested by patients quite commonly.

In the introduction, the authors write, “Recently, there has been an increasing interest in the study, practice and recommendation of acupuncture among health professionals and medical students…”

“Some of the reasons are lack of responses to conventional treatment, absence of available treatments, lack of adverse effects of acupuncture, request of the patients, belief of health professionals in its efficacy, and existence of documented evidence…”2

These statements may come as a surprise to some readers. Let me assure you that having been a hospital-based acupuncturist, all of these statements ring true and are corroborated by my experience.

How do the physicians and nurses in the study perceive the collaboration between Western medicine and acupuncture? There are three major areas in which health care professionals have perceptions related to integration3:

1. Acupuncture as a supplement of Western medicine. This is the perspective that acupuncture can compensate for some of the shortages of Western medicine, either in terms of the effectiveness gap of conventional treatments or in the contraindication of those treatments. Another perspective is that acupuncture completes Western medicine by providing a holistic, preventative, patient-centered approach. Lastly, acupuncture is seen to counteract the technical and bureaucratic nature of Western medicine.

2. Acupuncture as an accompaniment to Western medicine. This perception stems from the need for a treatment to address the side effects of medical procedures and drugs. Additionally, nurses are likely to perceive the integration of acupuncture as a self-development opportunity.

3. Added benefits of acupuncture to Western medicine. There is the perception that integrating acupuncture into the conventional medicine setting will allow staff to work more safely, save time, save work, and increase the quality of life, well-being, and overall care of patients.

What barriers to the integration of acupuncture did the study participants perceive?

• Primacy of the biomedical model
• Time constraints (specifically the that affect the development of a close professional-patient relationship)
• Lack of economical compensation
• Lack of funding
• Lack of institutional support
• Lack of scientific evidence
• Lack of recognized teaching

While these are legitimate concerns, none are insurmountable, in my opinion.

I can certainly appreciate the barrier of time constraints. I ran a very busy hospital practice with a schedule that accommodates nineteen patients per day, scheduled on the 20-minute mark. So I had to learn time management as a survival skill.

Why should the primacy of the biomedical model should be a barrier to the integration of acupuncture? I would argue that acupuncturists are adaptable folk who can fold seamlessly into many medical settings.

Perhaps a strong disbelief in the acupuncture modality is at fault here. If that’s the case, education is the key.

The last five barriers of “lack” are why I suggest to those thinking of integrating acupuncture to name an “acupuncture champion.” This key individual, ideally a physician with access to high-level administrators, can systematically work to address these concerns within their workplaces.

The perception of lack of scientific evidence is false, pure and simple. This can easily be assuaged by a quick Google search. I can provide my hospital employers with high-quality, peer-reviewed research supporting the use of acupuncture for several medical conditions, on the fly.

Why is this information important? Simply because what people perceive about a given topic will inform their behavior around it. In the words of the authors, “…health professionals’ conceptions of acupuncture may affect its utilisation and integration within conventional medicine…”4

One important part of my mission in life is to help create more opportunity for the integration of acupuncture in hospital settings. The study discussed in this article is a positive affirmation that this is not only possible but also highly desirable by medical professionals.

I hope you have found this information useful. If you have questions or comments about anything covered (or not covered) in this series, please post a comment below.

References

1 Garcia-Escamilla, E., et. al. Integration of acupuncture into conventional medicine from health professionals’ perspective: A thematic synthesis of qualitative studies. Sagepub; Health: I-25, 2015.
2 Ibid, pg. 2
3 Ibid, pg 16, Table 5.
4 Ibid, pg 1

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