Objectives: To determine patients' experience of outcomes after acupuncture treatment.
Design: A patient questionnaire followed by semistructured interviews.
Setting: Acupuncture practices in York, England.
Subjects: Questionnaires were distributed by 4 acupuncturists to all 132 of their patients over a 2-week period, 72 (55%) of whom responded. Of these, 11 patients were interviewed.
Interventions: Patients received normal care from their acupuncturists, all of whom were members of the British Acupuncture Council.
Outcome measures: Patients reported on physical symptoms, emotional/mental symptoms, lifestyle changes, major life changes and inner life changes affecting outlook and attitudes to health. Patients also reported on the extent they attributed change to acupuncture and what they valued about attending for treatment.
Results: Primary reasons for attending were categorized by patients as physical symptoms (90%), mental and emotional problems (9%) and general health and well-being (1%). For physical symptoms, 75% of patients reported definite change; for emotional and mental symptoms, 67%; lifestyle changes, 40%, major life changes, 27%; and for inner life changes, 54%. Over time, many of the patients (42%) changed their primary reason for attending from their initial physical concerns, half of whom describing their new focus as related to general health and well-being. Some emotional changes were experienced by 83% of patients, irrespective of the initial reason for attending. For all these changes, 58% of patients reported that they "substantially" attributed the changes to acupuncture, and 25% "totally". The interviews provided additional data on the depth of the changes particularly for the longer term patients and on what they valued about treatment.
Conclusions: Treatment with acupuncture results in a broad range of outcomes from physical and emotional change through to wider benefits involving the patients' lifestyle, outlook, and attitude toward their health. Existing outcome measures are not adequate to assess these wider benefits. The results suggest that patients experienced holistic benefits from acupuncture, an outcome that could be described as holism-in-action.