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Guest Blog: The importance of integrated working – Acupuncture

Guest Blog: Helen Smallwood: The importance of integrated working

A version of this blog first appeared on . Helen Smallwood founded the Shaftesbury Clinic, in 2008.  Shaftesbury Acupuncture Clinic is based at Bedford Consulting Rooms

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When considering complementary medicine, patients often remark “but what will my doctor say?”

Most importantly, practitioners of complementary medicine have very specific training in ensuring they are able to understand and appreciate the language and workings of allopathic, or western medicine to recognise when there is a “red flag” symptom that needs immediate medical intervention and refer appropriately.

As far as how western medical practitioners, in particular doctors view alternative medicine, I had a flavour of this in conducting primary research into this exact area in 2008, asking GPs’ views of acupuncture in a postal survey.

This video summarised the previous research also carried out, and shows acupuncture to be popular and well-supported by the medical profession.

Studies show that majority (83%) of GPs agree acupuncture can be clinically useful, 72% of GPs agree acupuncture that it can be cost effective (Lipman et al, 2003), and 65% agree acupuncture is effective (White, Resch, & Ernst 1997).

In a study by the British Medical Association: “Overall 79% of the GPs agreed that they would like to see acupuncture available on the NHS” (BMA, 2000 p76).


What is acupuncture used for?

Where GPs recommend acupuncture to patients, it is mostly for pain relief, musculoskeletal disorders, psychological conditions, stress, skin diseases and chronic illnesses (BMA, 2000; Giannelli, Cuttini, Da Fre & Buiatti, 2007; Adams 2001a; Ernst 2000b; Desser, 2003, Lewis & Halvorsen, 2003). Their support is shown by the fact that between 59% (BMA, 2000) and 79% (Lipman, 2000) of GPs would like to see acupuncture available within the NHS.


Could acupuncture have an affect on prescribed medication?

Acupuncture is fine alongside prescribed medications, and we also suggest that patients let their GP and team know they are having acupuncture, because we’re always happy to work with our medical colleagues as necessary, if that is the patient’s wish. There are a few things we need to be mindful of, such as if warfarin is being used, but we always take a full medical history including all medications, and liaise with medical practitioners with patients’ permission where necessary.

It is important for patients to have these conversations with their medical team, and it’s crucial if that patients only make changes to medications with the full awareness of their GP and any consultants whose care they are under.

In terms of acupuncture and working with patients, some of the reasons people are looking at introducing complementary medicines may be to reduce the number of painkillers needed, or see if we can do something to help side-effects of medications. This can be very helpful as long as we have a team approach, realistic expectations and discussions, and the patient is also working with their GP or consultant.


Evidence base

The research evidence for acupuncture is growing, and we find that medical professionals are more and more aware of what we do, in some cases recommending acupuncture for particular conditions, so we ask our patients to let their GP know they use acupuncture, and keep them up to date on how you are getting along.


Links and resources

Majority of GP’s agree Acupuncture can be clinically useful 
BMA press release on their book on acupuncture and survey on doctors’ views of acupuncture


References and resources

BMA (2000) Acupuncture: efficacy, safety and practice – a BMA report (BMA’s Board of Science and Education) Harwood Academic Publishers
Silvert, M (2000) Acupuncture wins BMA approval BMJ 2000; 321 

Lipman L, Dale J, MacPherson H Attitudes of GPs towards the provision of acupuncture on the NHS. Complement Ther Med. 2003 Jun;11(2):110-4.

White AR, Resch KL, Ernst E 1997 Complementary medicine: use and attitudes among GPs Fam Pract. 1997 Aug;14(4):302-6
Massimo Giannelli, Marina Cuttini, Monica Da Fre, and Eva Buiatti (2007) General practitioners’ knowledge and practice of complementary/alternative medicine and its relationship with life-styles: a population-based survey in Italy BMC Fam Pract. 2007; 8: 30. Published online 2007 May 15.

Giannelli M, Cuttini M, Da Fre M, Buiatti E. General practitioners’ knowledge and practice of complementary/alternative medicine and its relationship with life-styles: a population-based survey in Italy. BMC Family Practice. 2007;8:30. doi:10.1186/1471-2296-8-30.