Objective: The primary aim was to describe the characteristics of acupuncture patients and in particular the main problem or symptom for which they were seeking treatment. Our secondary aim was to compare the profiles of acupuncture patients with those of a patient survey undertaken in 1988.
Methods: We used the data from a recent prospective adverse event survey of a representative sample of 9408 acupuncture patients who were consulting members of the British Acupuncture Council. We analysed patient reports of demographic details, pathways to care, whether the National Health Service paid for their treatment, whether they had previously consulted a GP or hospital specialist for their main problem and whether they were consulting an acupuncturist for the first time. We separately analysed equivalent data from a survey funded by the Nuffield Provincial Hospital Trust undertaken in 1988.
Results: Seventy-four percent of patients were female, and with an average age of 51 years. Most commonly, patients had self-referred (39%), had previously consulted their doctor about their problem or symptom (78%), were paying for their own treatment (95%), and had received acupuncture before (87%). The most common main problem or symptom reported by patients was musculo-skeletal (38%), followed by psychological (11%), general (9%), neurological (8%) and gynaecological/obstetric (8%), while 5% of patients were seeking treatment for their general well-being. In comparing our data with that of the 1988 survey, we found a number of changes over time, in particular the proportion of musculo-skeletal conditions had dropped significantly (chi(2) = 17.36, d.f. = 1, p < 0.001), indicating a wider case mix amongst patients compared with those seeking care in 1988.
Conclusion: This evidence from acupuncture patients' reports shows that musculo-skeletal problems provide the main reason for seeking treatment. The large dataset from this study provides a wealth of information and a fresh raft of questions which will inform future research and policy-making.