It is difficult to select acupuncturist. Often we get attracted by a commercial, an article in a local paper or simply an idea about trying acupuncture. Perhaps somebody knows an acupuncturist and recommends him to you. Or you simply just need an acupuncturist and find one on random. Most of us search for an acupuncturist with experience. We might think that the more years in the job, the more experience he gets, and the chance for good results increases. It is true that some get better with experience, but not all – most NOT! It is also true that both groups (the good and the bad) think they get better with time. If an acupuncturist repeat the same bad job multiple times a day, he will become better in doing a bad job. He will never get better in the actual acupuncture job; a long term bad will never get good. Many acupuncturists do not notice this difference between their experience and their results. Some get better in their bad acupuncture while others get better in their good acupuncture. Getting better in good is something completely different than getting better in bad; a worsening. Entering this territory you need to remember that research has shown that most freshmen (junior acupuncturist) are better than the lower half of the seniors (senior acupuncturist); making experience a questionable indicator. Not all veteran acupuncturists have a well-developed instinct driven fine-tuned gut feeling; even among acupuncturists who think they have. Remember how many acupuncturists speak about holism, integrated organ theory, mind-body, energies, the special pulse and tongue diagnosis, they dig in the life of their patients just to put their needles according to some lists from a book. When you in the end just put needles for headache, insomnia and back ache (etc.) you are a bad acupuncturist, or monkey acupuncturist as my teachers (Dr He Pu Ren and Dr Cheng Xinnong) used to tell me.
To use an acupuncturist that has a lot of experience is not always the sure thing. Remember that experience is not the same as competence. It is possible that a person has a lot of experience (worked for many years) or many degrees and titles (studied a lot), but do not have the real competence (know many things). Years worked and degrees are not the same as medical knowledge applied on patients. In as much as half of the cases we might get fooled by the time component; thinking that a lot of time studied or worked is qualifying the person to become an experienced acupuncturist. A knowledgeable acupuncturist is not necessarily an experienced acupuncturist; in the sense of time worked and studied.
Another general fact is that seniors charge more than juniors; this also goes for acupuncturists. To pay more to an old acupuncturist that have worked for many years within a specific field or for his experience is a relatively bad investment for his patients. Competence cannot be measured in years, but in results. That is why patients should ask for references and not graduation year from Acupuncture College. Well, if he is China trained or not is merely a geographical indicator of a school and little more. It exist good schools and bad schools in China too. Just as here in the West. Anyhow, China sells…
Here we also need to consider that many experienced acupuncturists THINK they know a lot. What an acupuncturist think he knows is relatively irrelevant. It actually might be a danger for the patient to have an over confident acupuncturist. When entering the dark zone, where the knowledge is thin, and ALL acupuncturists need to consult books or colleagues before treating their patient. Interesting enough most acupuncturists have a higher or lower self-image than they should have, making acupuncturist with a lot of knowledge examine more than needed. At the same time the shallow acupuncturists that definitely should have good deeper into the material don’t. When a patient asks the doctor about his case we will discover something interesting. The acupuncturist will just start speaking (almost on automatic) and create a logical explanation about the patient’s disease and the correct treatment that might sound plausible for laymen; most likely this is just words and little more than that! In other words, when we ask a person directly we will often be misguided. This is why we shouldn’t ask our acupuncturist about details connected or related to the disease! Fairy tale stories do not solve anything and is not curative in any way. The correct question is a more directly: “What do you know about my disease?” When the acupuncturist start speaking the patient would follow he words better and might correct him where he lack knowledge, and help him to adjust his therapy.
Never forget that the best acupuncturist is out there some place. Recommendations and personal observations are often the safest way to judge a person or an acupuncturist. If you ask him directly you will depend on his self-evaluation, and as we know that does not pay off that well. Well, do not rely on his secretary, family or his close friends neither as a good reference.
Research has shown that the best 25% of the juniors are better than the lower half of the seniors. A good acupuncture student will be better than half of the established older acupuncturists. In other words, if you know that this acupuncturist was a good student, you might be sure that he is in the better half of all acupuncturists. A lazy experienced acupuncturist (was a bad student and have worked for a long time) is worse than an average fresh man. Again never forget that experience is not the same as competence. Your first choice acupuncturist should be the competent famous acupuncturist with years in the business (a lot of experience) with a good result reputation; meaning that the important here is not a big mouth, but rather information about persons with similar problems have been cured. Your second choice should be an acupuncturist that recently graduated with honour from an Acupuncture college or an acupuncturist with just a few years of experience and with good results. You should not choose an acupuncturist that has worked for many years with no success; it is always a reason why he has not grown. Often we might see the difference in the actual clinic. We have to admit that success is often followed with money, and money often gives a better looking clinic and a more professional touch. The lack of success often makes the acupuncturist to work in less attractive and professional facilities as for example in a small room in the basement of his house. Books might also be used as an indicator. A book shelf with many interesting professional books might indicate an interest for information, and a book shelf with just a handful of books might indicate little interest for the profession and progress. Of course, it might be pure marketing and bank loans that give the impression of professionalism, but often this is true for acupuncturists according to my experience.
Price is another important aspect when dealing with acupuncturists. It is common to find that acupuncturists operate with totally different prices. Just to have stated the most important at once: “A high price does not indicate a better quality; it indicates a higher cost for the patient and little more!” It is no argument for huge differences in price based on experience only. The only reasons to calm a higher price are a higher competence and a better service. Often people clam experience is competence; they think that since they have been doing something for 20 years they might charge double. Nothing could be farther from the truth. An acupuncturist should only charge average, but if his work has shown that he is very good he might charge more. Here we might associate the classical dilemma made visible through Krueger and Dunning. People that know something very good will go cheap where they are shallow and high where they are good. Leading to the following fact, incompetent acupuncturists tend to always go high since they do not see their own limitations. Acupuncturists that seem overpriced tend to be overpriced; due to the hard fact they do not know what they can or cannot. Perhaps we might use price as a type of warning factor against malpractice.
This leads us to the following tentative conclusion. When you search for an acupuncturist you need to search for his real competence. Don’t count years of acupuncture practice, – diplomas at the wall, – look at the price he is charging or listen to his fantastic curative stories. Look at his verifiable results, achievements and judge his dedication. Then you decide if it is in the hands of exactly this acupuncturist you want to put your health, life, time and money.