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Acupuncturists as Primary Care Providers

In the state of California, licensed acupuncturists are considered primary care providers. We are able to order lab tests, MRI’s, cat scans, blood work, and various other medical diagnostic tests. Here are a couple of issues that arise with this…

One, if I, as a Doctor of acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, order certain medical tests for a patient, insurance companies do not cover the cost and, therefore, the patient ends up having to absorb the cost. For example, MRI’s, X-rays, and cat scans are not covered by insurance if ordered by an acupuncturist. These tests usually are very expensive, so this inadvertently, ends up not being part of our applicable scope of practice.(Certain companies do cover blood work costs, Spectra Cell being one of them.)

Two, I am not trained to be able to read results of MRI’s, cat scans, and X-rays. It’s not the expertise of MD’s either. This is why they usually work along side radiologists who are specifically trained in reading images. As it stands now, there are limited opportunities for acupuncturists working along side MD’s and radiologists.

As you can see, there are inconsistencies within this process. We, as acupuncturists, have the title of primary care physician but are not backed up by the medical community nor insurance companies. There is a gross misunderstanding about what we are legally allowed to do and what we are actually doing. Within a working system there needs to be support. What use is it if we can order certain tests but not have them covered by insurance? How frustrating to not be to work with radiologists who provide us with accurate test results.

As we work toward true integrative care, these things will gradually start to shift. This transition would ideally focus on accountability and consistently within the profession. School curriculum, titles, and training all should be more standardized across the US so that each individual state isn’t deciding on what the scope of practice is for the profession of Chinese Medicine. If we are to become primary care providers across the nation, much care and attention needs to be taken in how to standardize our education nationwide to match professional responsibility. We also need to see an expansion of integrative care, doctors of acupuncture and Chinese Medicine working along side other medical professionals.

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