Use of Acupuncture

To remove this threat to their cultural authority, doctors endeavored to control the definition, study, and use of acupuncture. This proved relatively easy because, unlike chiropractic or osteopathy, acupuncture at the time had few American supporters. Consequently, in their writings and public pronouncements, doctors could strip acupuncture of its grounding in traditional Chinese medical philosophy and define it simply as the use of needles to produce anesthesia. Pressure from medical organizations led the National Institutes of Health to adopt a similar definition in funding research on acupuncture. At the same time, pressure from doctors led most states to adopt licensure laws allowing any doctor, regardless of training, to practice acupuncture but forbidding all others, no matter how well trained, from doing so except under medical supervision. Thus, for many years, most traditional acupuncturists in the United States worked illegally within Asian communities.

During the past decade, however, as acceptance of alternative healing tradi- tions has increased, the position of acupuncturists has improved. Some insurance companies will reimburse nondoctors for acupuncture treatments, and most states now allow nondoctors to perform acupuncture, although some of these states require medical supervision or require acupuncturists to be licensed by medically dominated boards. Use of acupuncture remains rare: Only 1.4% of U.S. residents report using it in a one-year period. Surprisingly, around half of acupuncture users report receiving some insurance coverage for it. Despite this small indication of increasing acceptance, these figures suggest that acupuncture remains a marginal therapy and occupation, posing little threat to medical dominance.

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