Beyond Needling—Therapeutic Processes in Acupuncture Care: A Qualitative Study Nested Within a Low-Back Pain Trial

Foundation for Traditional Chinese Medicine, York, UK.
The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (Impact Factor: 1.59). 12/2006; 12(9):873-80. DOI: 10.1089/acm.2006.12.873
Source: PubMed


In the medical and scientific literature, there is a dearth of reports about how acupuncturists work and deliver care in practice. An informed characterization of the treatment process is needed to support the appropriate design of evaluative studies in acupuncture.
The design was that of a nested qualitative study within a pragmatic clinical trial. Six acupuncturists who treated up to 25 patients each were interviewed after the treatment phase of the trial to obtain an account of their experiences of providing acupuncture care to patients with low back pain referred by their GP. Using semistructured interviews and a topic guide, data were collected and analyzed for both a priori and emergent themes. This paper focuses on practitioners' accounts of the goals and processes of care, and describes the strategies employed in addition to needling and other hands-on treatments.
From the interview data, it is clear that a coherent body of theoretical knowledge informed clinical decisions and practice, and that the goals of treatment went beyond the alleviation of immediate pain-related symptoms. Acupuncturists in this study all described a pattern of patient-centered care based on a therapeutic partnership. Study participants confirmed the importance of three processes that characterized acupuncture care in this trial, each contributing to the goal of a positive long-term outcome; building a therapeutic relationship; individualizing care; and facilitating the active engagement of patients in their own recovery. Acupuncturists described elements of care that characterized these processes including establishing rapport, facilitating communication throughout the period of care, using an interactive diagnostic process, matching treatment to the individual patient, and the use of explanatory models from Chinese medicine to aid the development of a shared understanding of the patient's condition and to motivate lifestyle changes that reinforce the potential for a recovery of health. Acupuncturists did not view these therapeutic goals, processes, and strategies as a departure from their usual practice.
This study suggests that acupuncture care for patients with chronic conditions such as low back pain is likely to be a complex intervention that utilizes a number of patient-centered strategies to elicit longterm therapeutic benefits. Research designed to evaluate the effectiveness of acupuncture as it is practiced in the UK needs to accommodate the full range of therapeutic goals and related treatment processes.

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    • "The findings from a small study involving interviews with six practitioners in a trial of acupuncture for back pain found that these acupuncturists had a goal of a positive long-term outcome, and developed a therapeutic partnership to support the active engagement of patients in their own recovery. [16] Consistent with many of the findings we report here, the authors reported that the key elements were: establishing rapport, using an interactive diagnostic process, matching treatment to the patient, and using explanatory models from Chinese medicine to aid a shared understanding and motivate lifestyle changes to reinforce the potential recovery. "
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    ABSTRACT: Background Non-pharmacological interventions for depression may help patients manage their condition. Evidence from a recent large-scale trial (ACUDep) suggests that acupuncture and counselling can provide longer-term benefits for many patients with depression. This paper describes the strategies practitioners reported using to promote longer-term benefits for their patients. Methods A qualitative sub-study of practitioners (acupuncturists and counsellors) embedded in a randomised controlled trial. Using topic guides, data was collected from telephone interviews and a focus group, altogether involving 19 counsellors and 17 acupuncturists. Data were audio recorded, transcribed verbatim and analysed using thematic content analysis. Results For longer-term impact, both acupuncturists and counsellors encouraged insight into root causes of depression on an individual basis and saw small incremental changes as precursors to sustained benefit. Acupuncturists stressed the importance of addressing concurrent physical symptoms, for example helping patients relax or sleep better in order to be more receptive to change, and highlighted the importance of Chinese medicine theory-based lifestyle change for lasting benefit. Counsellors more often highlighted the importance of the therapeutic relationship, emphasising the need for careful “pacing” such that the process and tools employed were tailored and timed for each individual, depending on the “readiness” to change. Our data is limited to acupuncture practitioners using the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, and counsellors using a humanistic, non-directive and person-centred approach. Conclusions Long-term change appears to be an important focus within the practices of both acupuncturists and counsellors. To achieve this, practitioners stressed the need for an individualised approach with a focus on root causes.
    PLoS ONE 09/2014; 9(9):e104077. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0104077 · 3.23 Impact Factor
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    • "Simultaneously achieving both internal and external validity may be problematic; indeed, they may be in tension [11,12]. Consequently, two categories of trial have entered the methodological language [13,14]: explanatory trials, which focus on establishing efficacy (that is, can the intervention work?) with resultant high internal but low external validity; and pragmatic trials, which focus on effectiveness (that is, does the intervention work in real-world contexts?) with resultant lower internal but higher external validity. "
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    ABSTRACT: Current Medical Research Council (MRC) guidance on complex interventions advocates pilot trials and feasibility studies as part of a phased approach to the development, testing, and evaluation of healthcare interventions. In this paper we discuss the results of a recent feasibility study and pilot trial for a randomized controlled trial (RCT) of pelvic floor muscle training for prolapse ( NCT01136889). The ways in which researchers decide to respond to the results of feasibility work may have significant repercussions for both the nature and degree of tension between internal and external validity in a definitive trial. We used methodological issues to classify and analyze the problems that arose in the feasibility study. Four centers participated with the aim of randomizing 50 women. Women were eligible if they had prolapse of any type, of stage I to IV, and had a pessary successfully fitted. Postal questionnaires were administered at baseline, 6 months, and 7 months post-randomization. After identifying problems arising within the pilot study we then sought to locate potential solutions that might minimize the trade-off between a subsequent explanatory versus pragmatic trial. The feasibility study pointed to significant potential problems in relation to participant recruitment, features of the intervention, acceptability of the intervention to participants, and outcome measurement. Finding minimal evidence to support our decision-making regarding the transition from feasibility work to a trial, we developed a systematic process (A process for Decision-making after Pilot and feasibility Trials (ADePT)) which we subsequently used as a guide. The process sought to: 1) encourage the systematic identification and appraisal of problems and potential solutions; 2) improve the transparency of decision-making processes; and 3) reveal the tensions that exist between pragmatic and explanatory choices. We have developed a process that may aid researchers in their attempt to identify the most appropriate solutions to problems identified within future pilot and feasibility RCTs. The process includes three key steps: a decision about the type of problem, the identification of all solutions (whether addressed within the intervention, trial design or clinical context), and a systematic appraisal of these solutions.
    Trials 10/2013; 14(1):353. DOI:10.1186/1745-6215-14-353 · 1.73 Impact Factor
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    • "Future research on the context of acupuncture should consider the elements of the pre-treatment context identified here, in addition to more established components such as expectations. It would also be interesting to explore how acupuncturists orient to patients’ preconceptions of acupuncture and whether they inform the individualisation of treatment [51,52]. Of clinical relevance, we have identified an apparent need for accessible (i.e. "
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    ABSTRACT: Background Like any other form of healthcare, acupuncture takes place in a particular context which can enhance or diminish treatment outcomes (i.e. can produce contextual effects). Patients’ expectations of acupuncture might be an important component of contextual effects, but we know relatively little about the origins and nature of patients’ expectations or wider preconceptions about acupuncture. Our aim was to identify the processes the underpin patients’ decisions to try acupuncture and thus begin to tease out the origins and nature of patients’ preconceptions. Methods One-off semi-structured interviews were conducted with a purposive, varied sample of 35 adults who had tried acupuncture for various conditions. Interviews explored people’s experiences of acupuncture treatment and techniques from framework and inductive thematic analysis were used to relate the data to the research question. Results We identified four distinct processes within participants’ accounts of deciding to try acupuncture: establishing a need for treatment, establishing a need for a new treatment, deciding to try acupuncture, and finding an acupuncturist. Family, friends and health care professionals played a role in these processes, providing support, advice, and increasing people’s general familiarity with acupuncture. When they came to their first acupuncture appointment, participants had hopes, concerns, and occasionally concrete expectations as to the nature of acupuncture treatment and its likely effects. Conclusions Existing theories of how context influences health outcomes could be expanded to better reflect the psychological components identified here, such as hope, desire, optimism and open-mindedness. Future research on the context of acupuncture should consider these elements of the pre-treatment context in addition to more established components such as expectations. There appears to be a need for accessible (i.e. well-disseminated), credible, and individualised, patient-centred materials that can allay people’s concerns about the nature of acupuncture treatment and shape realistic hopes and expectations.
    BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 05/2013; 13(1):102. DOI:10.1186/1472-6882-13-102 · 2.02 Impact Factor
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