If you’ve never had acupuncture before, choosing an acupuncturist can be a little bit overwhelming. It’s the brave soul who just opens the Yellow Pages and picks the closest practitioner or the one with biggest listing, knowing nothing about who they are or how they practice acupuncture.
A better plan would be to ask some questions before you book an appointment to make sure you’re getting the right practitioner for you and your particular needs. As a practitioner, I’m always impressed when a new patient asks a few questions about me, my education or licensing, or how I treat their particular condition.
The following is a cheat sheet as to what questions you should be asking before you book that first acupuncture appointment.
Are you a licensed acupuncturist? What’s your education in acupuncture? This is probably the most important question you can ask anyone before they perform acupuncture on you! Frequently consumers are led to believe that any practitioner who’s trained or certified to practice acupuncture has extensive training in Chinese Medicine. Don’t hesitate to ask a prospective practitioner about their credentials and training.
Physicians are only required to have 50 hours of training in the technical use of acupuncture prior to using it as a treatment. This is considered “medical acupuncture”.
Many chiropractors advertise that they offer acupuncture. It’s important to know, however, they are only required to have 100 to 150 hours of unspecified training in acupuncture. They typically take a test sponsored by their local Chiropractic Board and pay a fee to become “certified”. Chiropractors who perform acupuncture call themselves “Board Certified Acupuncturists”. In addition, they are legally limited to performing acupuncture treatments that augment chiropractic adjustments.
Licensed Acupuncturists (L.Ac.) in most states are required to have a minimum of 1,800 to 2,400 hours of education which includes clinical training. In some states they’re required to have more. They also have to be board certified with the NCCAOM, a national regulatory agency governing Oriental medical credentials. L.Ac.’s are also licensed by their state’s Board of Medical Practice.
Licensed acupuncturists practice internal Chinese medicine, which focuses on the underlying source of a problem rather than just relieving symptoms. As a result, their treatments go beyond simple pain relief and may include the use of Chinese herbs, dietary therapy, body work and lifestyle changes.
Do you have a specialty? What’s your experience and success with my particular condition? Some acupuncturists treat any and all conditions. Many specialize, however, in treating certain problems, such as muscle and joint pain, stress and anxiety, infertility, or women’s conditions. It’s important to ask whether a prospective practitioner has some experience in treating your condition.
What kind of acupuncture do you practice? Most people don’t know that there are many different kinds of acupuncture, such as Traditional Chinese medicine, ear acupuncture, Japanese style, Korean Hand acupuncture, cosmetic acupuncture and scalp acupuncture. Some of these different styles are more effective for specific conditions. For example, ear acupuncture is effective for people with addictions, like quitting smoking and weight loss; and scalp acupuncture is frequently used for conditions affecting the nervous system. Be sure to ask what conditions are best helped by your practitioner’s kind of acupuncture.
How many treatments will I need? This is actually a trick question. No practitioner should answer this question on the phone before they have seen you, taken your health history and made a diagnosis. In fact, everyone heals at a different pace. Your condition may be resolved in one or two treatments, or it may take many more, especially if it’s a chronic condition.
Do you accept insurance? Many health care plans currently don’t pay for acupuncture treatments. As a result, many acupuncturists are fee for service (cash) providers. If you think your health insurance plan may cover acupuncture, check with them to be sure and that the acupuncturist you ultimately choose will accept your insurance as payment. If you have a health savings plan, acupuncture qualifies for reimbursement. Be sure to ask your practitioner for a receipt.