Doctors are a good resource for referrals to acupuncturists. Increasingly, doctors are familiar with acupuncture and may know of a certified practitioner. In addition, more medical doctors, including neurologists, anesthesiologists, and specialists in physical medicine, are becoming trained in acupuncture, traditional Chinese medicine, and other alternative and complementary therapies. Friends and family members may be a source of referrals as well.
Check a practitioner’s credentials.
A practitioner who is licensed and credentialed may provide better care than one who is not. About 30 states have established training standards for certification to practice acupuncture, but not all states require acupuncturists to obtain a license to practice. Although proper credentials do not ensure competency, they do indicate that the practitioner has met certain standards to treat patients with acupuncture.
The American Academy of Medical Acupuncture can give you a referral list of doctors who practice acupuncture. The National Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Alliance lists thousands of acupuncturists on its Web site and provides the list to callers to their information and referral line. The Alliance requires documentation of state license or national board certification from its listed acupuncturists. The American Association of Oriental Medicine can tell you the state licensing status of acupuncture practitioners across the United States as well.
Check treatment cost and insurance coverage.
Reflecting public demand, an estimated 70 to 80 percent of the nation’s insurers covered some acupuncture treatments in 1996. An acupuncturist may provide information about the number of treatments needed and how much each will cost. Generally, treatment may take place over a few days or several weeks. The cost per treatment typically ranges between $30 and $100 (US), but it may be appreciably more. Physician acupuncturists may charge more than nonphysician practitioners.
Check treatment procedures.
To find out about the treatment procedures that will be used and their likelihood of success. You also should make certain that the practitioner uses a new set of disposable needles in a sealed package every time. The FDA requires the use of sterile, nontoxic needles that bear a labeling statement restricting their use to qualified practitioners. The practitioner also should swab the puncture site with alcohol or another disinfectant before inserting the needle.
Some practitioners may use electroacupuncture; others may use moxibustion. These approaches are part of traditional Chinese medicine, and Western researchers are beginning to study whether they enhance acupuncture’s effects.
During your first office visit, the practitioner may ask you at length about your health condition, lifestyle, and behavior. The practitioner will want to obtain a complete picture of your treatment needs and behaviors that may contribute to the condition. This holistic approach is typical of traditional Chinese medicine and many other alternative and complementary therapies.
Let the acupuncturist, or any doctor for that matter, know about all treatments or medications you are taking and whether you have a pacemaker, are pregnant, or have breast or other implants. You can avoid unnecessary risks to your health by telling your practitioner of these matters.