Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Conference of Things That Make You Feel Good

Fresh off the integrative oncology conference at MD Anderson in Houston for acupuncturists, massage therapists, and yoga instructors... This was the 7th year of the program, but actually the first year for acupuncture to be included.  It was an excellent program and an incredible opportunity.

The message from the leaders of integrative medicine: We embrace what you do and want to know more about it, but operating on a purely historical basis is not enough. We will use anything that works, but we need evidence.

Personally, I think that's great. But what's even greater is that MD Anderson is doing significant research to build that body of evidence. They have a multi-center phase III trial coming up on acupuncture for dry mouth due to radiation, for example. They are researching toad venom and other medicinal compounds for their anti-tumor properties.This is all research of the highest caliber.

The presenters were all excellent. They shared what they know, and what they don't know, and provided a solid training in using acupuncture as part of an integrated approach to care for cancer patients, while also looking at acupuncture's place in the bigger picture of the medical system.

It was a little daunting. There is a lot of work to be done.

I think it is really important for acupuncturists to keep straight that clinical practice is one thing and research another. Some practitioners I think wrongly perceive research as a threat to what they do somehow. At the same time, many of the acupuncturists in attendance seemed almost naively hungry to participate and to be included by mainstream medicine. One even sheepishly offered to treat patients for free if MD Anderson would work with her. It was kind of strange.

To me, what I heard pointed squarely to the need for acupuncture education to improve. As a field, we have got to pull ourselves out of antiquity and learn to embrace thinking critically about what we are doing. It's ok. Acupuncture is not going to go away, and we don't have to lose our collective soul in the process. And sure, not everything can be plugged into scientific models. That's ok too, and the bright minds at MD Anderson certainly get this. I think acupuncturists tend to operate from a place of bias that turns out to actually create quite a limiting perspective. This conference was a wonderful opportunity to broaden that perspective.