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Phil Veneziano, M.S. L.Ac. Headshot

Acupuncture in the U.S. and the Hospital of the Future

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By 2014, Section 3502 of President Obama's health care reform could mandate the Bureau of Health Statistics to formally recognize acupuncture as a profession, opening the door to Medicare coverage for acupuncture, serving our growing elderly population, as well as providing it as an option for millions of low- and middle-income Americans in need of care.

Although acupuncture is still relatively "new" to the United States, its integration has been a long time coming. Thousands of years ago, Chinese ancients spent whole lifetimes observing nature, discovered the secrets of healing naturally, and passed down this beautiful medicine generation to generation.

A hundred years ago, in 1912, William Osler, the so-called father of American medicine, described putting a "body needle" at the base of his patient's spine to treat lumbago (low back pain). Six decades later, in 1975, California became one of the first states to legalize the practice of acupuncture by licensed professionals. The FDA got on board in 1996, and two years later, the National Institute of Health approved acupuncture as a medicine.

As a Chinese medicine practitioner with a busy clinic in the center of NYC, I witness a lot less apprehension from new patients as they enter my clinic these days. Pillars of the financial, arts, sports, legal and most interestingly the Western medical world, at first tentative, now confidently enter the waiting rooms of acupuncturists across the country searching for relief from chronic and acute conditions that have somehow fallen between the cracks of the Western steroidal, pharmaceutical, and physical therapy solution.

Brought on by a modern-day lifestyle that includes the overconsumption of grains and sugar, lack of sleep, and a sedentary lifestyle, these complex medical issues are being addressed by Eastern medicine's whole-body approach, which before any acupuncture occurs, emphasizes the rebalancing of diet and lifestyle.

Chinese medicine is gradually making its way into the mainstream consciousness. We have become a first choice rather than a last resort these days, as results from study after study surface within the media, confirming acupuncture as an effective option for not only pain, but many other health issues. Increasingly, the public -- tired of ineffective Western treatment options and the pervasive overuse of pharmaceuticals -- are looking to the more natural approach that Chinese medicine offers.

It has taken the American public a while to come around, but we are discovering that acupuncture and associated Chinese medicine therapies, typically credited with relieving musculoskeletal pain, go far beyond just pain. The World Health Organization credits acupuncture with treating the following conditions (among others), all with minimal side effects:

• Relieving postoperative pain
• Nausea during pregnancy
• Nausea and vomiting resulting from chemotherapy
• Dental pain
• Allergic Rhinitis
• Essential Hypertension
• Stroke
• Acute and Chronic Gastritis
• Anxiety
• Panic disorders
• Insomnia
• Addiction
• Depression

The Information Age has catapulted this exquisitely-elegant medicine into the spotlight, under the microscope and on the radar of an estimated 8.2 million Americans. And as Chinese medicine integrates with mainstream choices, more and more Western doctors have opened their minds and clinics to the possibilities that exist, partnering with acupuncturists and referring appropriate cases to Chinese medicine clinics for treatment.

We have had and continue to have our detractors, to be sure. For several years now, I've treated postoperative patients with acupuncture in a New York City hospital. Initially, I received a lukewarm reception from staff, doctors and patients alike. Doctors wanted hard data via evidence-based clinical studies, and a clear treatment plan. The patients wanted to know how treatment would benefit their recovery.

As everyone watched patients' pain diminish, and their medication needs drop precipitously, the staff's comfort level increased, and my shifts in the hospital got busier and busier. Hospital staff referrals now comprise a good percentage of my patient population.

This is how it should be. Both medicines have their purpose, and can exist in partnership with each other. Egos aside, this is what's best for the patient, and at the end of the day, that's what we all want, isn't it?

It's easy to envision acupuncture becoming a part of every hospital's protocol in the near future. It is cost-effective, can provide a safe, side effect-free method of recovery from pain after surgery, lessens postoperative nausea, constipation, and urinary difficulties, and can manage existing conditions like hypertension, anxiety and insomnia. These discoveries are becoming survival for the hospital of the future as the country wrestles with ever-changing economic challenges and hospitals struggle to stay solvent and viable.

I'm happy Western and Eastern doctors are finally having a conversation about the future of health care. Our relationships strengthened by working together, we now discuss this nearly every week, when they come in for their appointments.

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