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Executive Summary - To Protect Consumers

Little Hover Commission 2004

Regulation of Acupuncture: A Complementary Therapy Framework

To protect consumers, the State must regulate acupuncturists and other professionals by appropriately applying the following tools:

  • A clear scope of practice. For the most part, the scope of practice for acupuncturists clearly focuses professionals on some of the traditional Oriental healing methods. Controversy, however, has arisen over their authority to diagnose patients and their role as primary care practitioners. In those aspects, clear statutory language is needed to affirm that consumers have direct access to acupuncturists who can diagnose patients using traditional Oriental techniques and should coordinate treatment and refer patients to Western doctors when appropriate.
  • Minimum educational requirements. Educational requirements should be based solely on providing the skills, knowledge and abilities necessary for entry-level professionals to safely perform the existing scope of practice. The recently enacted educational standards were designed to accomplish this task, but regulators need to ensure that existing practitioners also are equally well-trained. In addition, the national accrediting agency is well positioned to play a larger role in helping California regulators ensure that acupuncture schools are providing quality education.
  • Quality examination. The State needs a rigorous, accurate, fair and secure means of examining candidates for licensure. While the national examining agency has considerable potential to help the State test new professionals, the California examination is currently the stronger tool and should continue to be used.
  • Informed consumer choice. Given a policy predicated on consumer choice, public education is necessary to help patients make informed choices. Toward that end, the State can provide consumers with unembellished research information about the documented efficacy of various treatments, as well as information about the preparation, complaints and enforcement activity associated with individual providers.

To assess these issues identified in the legislation, the Commission conducted public hearings, empanelled an advisory committee of stakeholders, solicited written comments, and consulted with experts around the country.

Because some of the issues required technical analysis, the Commission contracted with experts from the University of California, San Francisco; California State University, Sacramento; and, the RAND Corp. These experts assessed legal aspects of the scope of practice, the details of the educational standards and the accreditation process, and scrutinized the examination instruments used by the Acupuncture Board and the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. This analysis-based testimony augmented the positions and perspectives offered in the public process. These separate reports also contain a wealth of detailed information and analysis that should assist regulators, policy-makers and the professionals in ways that go beyond the Commission's charge.

As requested, the Commission made recommendations on each of the issues identified in the legislation. In the course of the study, the Commission also identified other issues related to public safety that it believed were important enough to bring to the attention of policy-makers and the public.

The Commission greatly appreciates the time and expertise that so many people provided in the course of this study. But as always, the Commission's conclusions are its own.



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