Acupuncturists believe we’re the best-trained, most-qualified, most-effective providers of acupuncture. Many of us believe that our personal style of practice is superior to other styles and traditions.
And, we panic when faced with competition.
News of non-acupuncturists using filiform needles, a low-cost clinic opening in the area, or, a splashy franchise, are met with a combination of outrage and disdain, and fear that our practice, our clinic, the profession, won’t survive.
It’s an interesting juxtaposition. We’re the best, and, if the public has options we’re doomed.
There are reasons for concern. We’re burdened with debt. There’s consumer confusion. Reimbursement rates are falling, and, yes, competition is growing.
Efforts to increase educational hours, require additional training and certifications, add new titles and degrees, increase involvement of third party payers, and to “protect our turf,” have too often contributed to those problems rather than being the promised solutions.
We haven’t, with few exceptions, explored why clients would chose someone else’s services. Or considered how we might respond to client needs in mutually beneficial ways.
One notable exception — in 2002 Lisa Rohleder and Skip Van Meter founded a clinic to make it easier for more people to get more treatment, while also providing a stable income for practitioners. Lisa wrote a series of columns for Acupuncture Today to share her system with the profession as a whole. (These columns are excellent reading for all practitioners, whether or not sliding scale/community acupuncture is of any interest. Visit POCA for more information.)
After her sixth column, the Executive Editor of Acupuncture Today wrote to Lisa – “we are concerned about continuing your column under its current “theme”, for lack of a better word. While the concept of social entrepreneurship, particularly the “pay according to what you can afford” aspect, is admirable, it has dangerous potential from the perspective of professional advancement.”
Contrast that with AT’s love for Modern Acupuncture. Marilyn Allen, AT’s editor-in-chief has a new mantra – “Modern Acupuncture will save the profession.” She exhorts us to appreciate their “different” marketing, which, after all, has been designed by a top advertising firm to appeal to the “target demographic” (people with money). She even says we we should join the NCCAOM in promoting their advertising campaign.
I dislike MA’s marketing campaign, and I won’t promote their advertising. I’m sad that instead of, for example, exploring barriers to practice in underserved areas, we’ve got powerful voices touting acupuncture for hipsters. And I’m angry that Marilyn Allen and AT rave about MA but saw danger in “pay what you can afford.”
Meanwhile, rather than dwell on my judgements about how others practice, I choose to learn from my competition. Are they filling an unmet need? Is my pricing, location, schedule, office procedures, or technique keeping me from being more successful? How can I better serve my clients?
My patients don’t owe me anything. It’s their right to decide whether I serve their needs. If I don’t, I hope they will find someone who does. I wouldn’t be happy if there were serious competition down the street, but I’d try to learn from the experience.
We don’t have evidence that patient outcomes or satisfaction depends how long the practitioner went to school, the style of treatment, the treatment setting, or the practitioners titles or certifications. Different patients have different preferences and priorities.
So, I’m not counting on Modern Acupuncture to save us. Nor do I fear they’ll destroy the medicine. (It’s survived quite a lot over the millenia). My concerns for the future of the profession have nothing to do with competition, whether from LAcs or others.
My concern is that we don’t seem very interested in what our potential clients tell us they want. My concern is that we chase after the respect and acknowledgement of the establishment, even as the cracks in that establishment and the unhappiness of the participants grows. My concern is that some of the most powerful voices in the profession seem so clueless about what it’s really like to be a working LAc, and how their plans and policies so often hinder rather than help.
I don’t know whether that tingle I’ve been hearing about is the precursor to a pleasant thrill or shingles. I’ll focus my efforts on taking good care of my clients, supporting increased access to acupuncture for those who want it, and hoping that those with power use it for good. I hope you’ll do the same.
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