Objectives: To investigate which patients receive acupuncture in the framework of statutory health insurance in Germany, how treatment was carried out, and what results were achieved.
Design: Basic documentation (carried out by physician) within a prospective observational study.
Setting: 454,920 patients with at least one of the three chronic pain conditions including headache, low back pain and osteoarthritis treated by 8727 medical acupuncturists (panel doctors) within the scope of a reimbursement program.
Results: Fifty-three percent of the patients were treated by general practitioners, 19% by orthopaedists and 9% by internists. Eighty percent of patients were female, mean age was 53.6 (S.D.=15.7) years. Primary indication for acupuncture was low back pain (45%), headache (36%), and osteoarthritis (12%). Median time since the initial diagnosis was 3 years. 8.4 (S.D.=3.0) acupuncture sessions (body acupuncture) were administered on average. In 28% a concomitant treatment was reported. Effectiveness of acupuncture was rated by physicians in 22% of the patients as marked, in 54% as moderate, in 16% as minimal and in 4% as poor (unchanged). In 8% of the patients mild adverse reactions were reported, severe side effects occurred in 13 patients (0.003%). Orthopaedists rated the effectiveness of acupuncture lower, showing shortest time for face-to-face contact with the patient. More acupuncture training did not correspond to better therapeutic effect assessed by physicians.
Conclusions: Acupuncture proved a highly demanded treatment option for chronic pain conditions within the German research program. Results indicate that acupuncture provided by qualified therapists is safe, and patients benefited from the treatment.