Rationale, aims and objectives: Although courses in acupuncture are increasingly available to doctors, little is known about educational outcomes, or the impact on doctor practices. We sought to characterize doctors who seek acupuncture training, and describe acupuncture practice and referral patterns after training.
Methods: Using a self-administered survey of doctors completing a 300-hour acupuncture course at Harvard Medical School between 2000 and 2005, we obtained information regarding doctor characteristics, reasons for seeking training, subsequent practice and referral patterns, perceived efficacy, and barriers to using acupuncture.
Results: Overall, 80 doctors (78%) responded to the survey. Their mean age (+/-SD) was 45 (+/-9) years; most were in private practice (44%) or at an academic center (26%). The most common medical specialties were internal medicine (25%), anaesthesia/pain management (20%), family practice (14%) and physical medicine/rehabilitation (11%). Most took the course to gain a clinical skill (97%). After training, doctors felt able to integrate acupuncture into clinical practice (91%), but only half did so (n = 40, 50%). Time constraints (58%) and reimbursement issues (44%) were barriers to acupuncture practice. The most common condition treated was musculoskeletal pain (37%) and perceived efficacy was high. Referral rates to non-doctor acupuncturists increased (54% to 70%) after training.
Conclusions: Among doctors enrolling in an acupuncture training programme, half encountered barriers that prevented use in clinical practice. Those who did use acupuncture found it to be helpful for treatment of pain. Given the expanding pool of doctors trained in acupuncture in the USA, outcomes research is needed to further evaluate medical acupuncture practice.