Incorporating Medical Acupuncture into a Standard Medical Practice
Incorporating Medical Acupuncture into a Standard Medical Practice
James K. Rotchford, MD MPH


My story of becoming interested in acupuncture and incorporating it into a general medical practice could fill an entire book. Here is a one paragraph version.

I obtained my MD degree from the University of Washington in 1980. I then did a rotating internship at the Montreal General Hospital, a McGill University affiliated teaching hospital. I came back to Washington to work at a federally subsidized low income clinic on the coast of Washington. In this rural general practice numerous patients presented with painful conditions which were not readily responding to my therapy or the therapy obtained through referrals to specialists. In 1982 I went to a seminar in Vancouver to learn from a Canadian physiatrist how Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation might help my patients with painful conditions. While there I learned some neuroanatomical acupuncture and to my surprise it worked on several patients. I became very interested in acupuncture as a result of these initial successes and enrolled in a course on medical acupuncture sponsored by the UCLA school of medicine.

I wasn't the only Western physician to discover the benefits of acupuncture. Since the early 1980s there has been enormous growth in alternative forms of medicine. Acupuncture is one of the most rapidly growing areas of alternative medicine with both physicians and licensed acupuncturists providing therapy. There were an estimated 5 million visits in 1997. Recent events have accelerated the interest in acupuncture. In 1996 The FDA reclassified acupuncture needles as no longer experimental devices. In 1997 a National Institutes of Health Consensus Development Conference heightened public as well as professional awareness of scientific evidence as to acupuncture's effectiveness in treating medical conditions.

The American Academy of Medical Acupuncture, founded in 1987 with fewer than fifty members, has grown to more than 1600 members currently---and membership is doubling every two to three years. I should point out that this organization includes only those with an M.D. or D.O. license (or equivalent) to practice medicine either in the U.S. or Canada.

Acupuncture is a very old medical art, and there are many approaches to learning and practicing it. Medical acupuncture is the term used to describe acupuncture performed by a doctor trained and licensed in Western medicine who has also had thorough training in acupuncture as a specialty practice. Such a doctor can use one or the other approach, or a combination of both, as the need arises to treat an illness. Indeed, I am directing this paper to licensed physicians who are open to the possibility of incorporating acupuncture into their Western medical practices.

Contemplating the Integration of Acupuncture into Western Medical Practice

Change, especially amongst medical professionals, is often a difficult and painful process. There are two possible changes being explored in this paper. The first is making referrals for acupuncture; the second is actually incorporating acupuncture into a standard medical practice. By discussing the drawbacks and advantages of making these changes, I hope to promote the changes and make them easier. The drawbacks associated with referring patients and with incorporating acupuncture are different enough that I will enumerate them separately. Whereas ...

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