An Argument for Acupuncture Training for ALL Physicians
All physicians regardless of specialty or level of income or fullness of day should be trained to use and regularly employ simple acupuncture techniques. When there is a reasonable likelihood that a patient’s pain might be reduced — or even relieved altogether — in an ideal setting, treatment options should be offered immediately.
One voiced criticism is that paying the salary of a physician, much less a subspecialist, to perform acupuncture treatments is a misuse of funds and inappropriate use of time when a licensed acupuncturist could perform the same treatment at a lower cost. However, it is unlikely that a LAc is going to be in the exam room with a physician at the exact moment a distraught patient in pain is seeing that physician. Even when arranging ongoing care there is no justification to make a patient wait perhaps a few more weeks to be established with another clinic and another provider in order to have some relief.
Basic acupuncture is easily and quickly learned and delivered. When pain is a complaint, these simple, safe, inexpensive, and effective acupuncture techniques, which take only a few minutes to perform, should be offered and provided at the time a patient presents to a physician, be it to an overworked primary care provider or a highly skilled specialist at a tertiary care center.
The success that the Battle Field Acupuncture (BFA) protocol has had in the Department of Defense and VA is a template for how to achieve success in spreading the use of simple acupuncture techniques. As a group, medical acupuncturists should be sharing skills with other physicians. BFA is taught to Navy Corpsmen and Army and Airforce Medics who may have no more than a high school education. In a several hours long course, individuals of this same group are often taught and master more invasive skills, such as establishing IV access and placing advanced airways including by tracheostomy or inserting chest tubes, to be performed under fire in arduous environments. Certainly, any person with an MD/DO following their name should be able to master the safe needling of a few Master Acupuncture points in no more time than it takes to become BFA certified (four-hour course).
We should not delay in developing modular teaching programs directed at sharing with all physicians a few key treatments for some common problems. For example, during a six- to eight-hour course an educated audience of physicians could easily learn to safely needle and appropriately use:
- Shen Men for anxiety
- GB-21 for neck pain and headaches
- LI-14 and SI-11 for shoulder pain
- LI-10 and LI-4 for elbow and wrist pain
- ST-36 ,-34, SP-9 for knee pain
If the goal of practicing medicine is promotion of health, and health is not achievable while suffering, we should all be focused on relieving suffering as quickly as possible. The pure thrill of having a patient tearfully offer thanks for pain relief will stimulate the thirst for more knowledge and acquisition of the skills to become a boarded medical acupuncturist. To paraphrase the teachings of the Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, ‘‘Anything worth doing is worth doing now.’’
Michael Freedman, MD, FAAMA
AAMA Board of Directors