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Study highlights the training and practices of licensed acupuncturists

Currently, 51 acupuncture schools are accredited or are candidates for accreditation, and 42 states allow the practice of acupuncture by nonphysicians. In addition, about 3,000 physicians in the United States practice acupuncture. Although musculoskeletal conditions (usually back, neck, and shoulder) are the most common reasons for visits, acupuncturists treat a broad range of other, mostly chronic, conditions. A new study, supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS09565 and HS08194), provides a picture of the training and practice of licensed acupuncturists today. University of Washington investigator, Daniel C. Cherkin, Ph.D., and colleagues interviewed randomly selected licensed acupuncturists in Massachusetts and Washington State, and asked them to record information about 20 consecutive patient visits.

Most acupuncturists had 3 or 4 years of academic acupuncture training and had received additional postgraduate training as well. About 75 percent of the visits in both states were for chronic problems. In Massachusetts, 33 percent of the visits were for musculoskeletal problems, 12 percent were for general body symptoms, 10 percent were for neurological problems, and 10 percent were for psychological complaints. In Washington, 47 percent of the visits were for musculoskeletal problems, 9 percent were for general body symptoms, 12 percent were for neurological problems, and 8 percent were for psychological complaints.

Traditional Chinese medicine was the predominant style of acupuncture used in both states (79 percent in Massachusetts and 86 percent in Washington). Most visits included a traditional diagnostic assessment (more than 99 percent), regular body acupuncture (95 and 93 percent, respectively) and additional treatment modalities, such as heat and diet and exercise recommendations, (79 and 77 percent, respectively). Chinese herbs were used in about one-third of visits. About half the patients received concomitant care from a physician, but acupuncturists rarely communicated with the physician.

More details are in "The practice of acupuncture: Who are the providers and what do they do?" by Karen J. Sherman, Ph.D., Dr. Cherkin, David M. Eisenberg, M.D., and others, in the March 2005 Annals of Family Medicine 3(2), pp. 151-158.

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