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Unraveling the Confusion

Little Hover Commission 2004

Regulation of Acupuncture: A Complementary Therapy Framework

Policy-makers will find it difficult to address one of these issues without addressing all of them. And without squarely dealing with the fundamental questions, the tensions will not be eased and the public will be denied the benefits that clarity will bring. To unravel the confusion, policy-makers will need to do the following:

Clarify the role of acupuncturists in the health care system. The law should clarify that patients have direct access to acupuncturists. The statute also could go beyond a list of modalities to include disease-specific guidelines or limitations, such as those that apply to cancer. The statute also could establish the requirement for referral to MDs or other primary care providers in the biomedical health care system when appropriate. The statute should define essential terminology, such as primary care provider. And commensurate with the freedom to choose healers, the statute should provide for notifications on the limitations of traditional Oriental medicine.

Determine the "medicine" that regulation will cover. The statute should clearly define the medicine that licensees are authorized to practice. The position advocated by many acupuncturists to modernize and westernize traditional Oriental medicine will likely lead to a greater collision - rather than cooperation - among the professions. And ironically, to the extent that patients are seeking an alternative to Western medicine, that trend may not satisfy what patients seek. But the foremost factor of policy-makers must be patient safety. And the public will not be protected by a regulatory scheme premised on a hybrid of Western and Eastern practices that bypasses the training and licensure structures already in place for modern scientific medicine.

Specify diagnosis within scope. There is little doubt that policy-makers intended acupuncturists to diagnose patients before treating them. But the tensions over what that diagnosis will involve - traditional Oriental or Western biomedical - have frustrated efforts to make this needed clarification in the law. Unless the first two issues are resolved, it will be difficult, and perhaps even inappropriate, to explicitly authorize diagnosis.



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