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How Do You Choose an Acupuncture Fertility “Specialist”?

Posted Apr 23 2009 5:28pm

So, you have decided you want to try acupuncture for your fertility concerns.  If you don’t know anybody who is seeing an acupuncturist or if your doctor does not have any referral sources, what do you do?  Do you start searching the Internet first or do you get your phone book out and call the first person that you randomly selected by sticking a pencil into the page with your eyes closed?  How do you find an acupuncturist that you can trust who can address your needs?

Searching for the right practitioner is not an easy task.  Some practitioners might have great personalities and charisma but have mediocre medical skills.  On the other hand, some might have strong personalities and terrible bed side manners but excel in their medical knowledge.  Just like in any profession, there are practitioners who devote lots of time and energy to constantly better their skills while there are others that are happy with what they already know and don’t put much effort into increasing their knowledge.

Acupuncture for the treatment of infertility has received a lot positive of press in the past couple of years .  As a result of that, more and more practitioners of Chinese medicine are deciding to advertise infertility treatment as part of their practice.   The truth is, most practitioners of Chinese medicine receive very minimal training in treating infertility. Chinese medicine schools don’t offer specialties, so if an acupuncturist calls him/herself  “specialist”  in any area, that does not necessarily mean that they received years of extra training in that particular area.  It is not equal to a “specialist” title in Western medicine which usually required years of extra medical training.

Clinical doctorates in Chinese medicine are a recent offering to practitioners who wish to receive more training in a particular area of interest.  Some colleges offer focused study on cancer therapies, women’s health, geriatric medicine etc.  Those programs definitely offer a more in depth study in particular areas and there is a lot of interest in Chinese medicine field in making a doctorate degree a standard education requirement for future incoming students.  That process may take a long while to become effective since most acupuncture schools are small and operate on non profit basis.

When I graduated with the Master’s degree in Chinese medicine in 2003, I started out as a general practitioner who treated anybody who would come through my door.  As time went by I started receiving more and more phone calls and interest from patients who were asking me if I treated infertility.  My answer was simple: “Sure, I treat infertility, no problem.”

The truth is, I didn’t even know how much I didn’t know about treating infertility.  I only knew the basic information that was presented to us in school which (now I realize) was not nearly enough to create a comprehensive treatment plan.  As I realized that I really enjoyed working with women and helping them with their infertility problems I decided to do more research, take continuing education classes, read more books, enroll in doctorate program …I was constantly amazed with the wealth of information available on the subject of infertility and I definitely learn something new every single day.  So, how does this information help you?

When trying to chose a practitioner who can help you with your fertility concerns you should be proactive and not be afraid to ask them questions.  Here are some of the examples that may help:

- How much of your practice focuses on infertility treatment? A practitioner who devotes most of his/her time to treating infertility is most likely more knowledgeable in that area.  A practitioner who sees an occasional infertility patient may not have enough experience or expertise to offer the best treatment available (which does not mean that they can not be helpful at all).

- Did you receive any extra training in infertility treatment? Where, how much and by whom? I think that this is an important piece of information since extra training is definitely needed in this particular field.

- Where you trained in herbal medicine? Some colleges offer programs in acupuncture only which do not include herbal training.  In China, herbal medicine has been the main therapy for treating infertility throughout the centuries.  Acupuncture is considered an adjunct therapy that is usually not used as a sole therapy for infertility.  Most of the time, it is common for women to have to take different herbal formulas at different parts of their menstrual cycle depending on their individual condition.  Don’t be surprised if you get 4 different herbal prescriptions to take throughout the month.

Just like with any medical treatment, you should be encouraged to ask questions and understand your treatment plan and options. Chinese medicine has a completely different way of looking at the human body. Sometimes it can be challenging to understand the theory behind it but your practitioner should explain to her/his best ability what it would take to treat your condition and what would be a reasonable prognosis.

Your practitioner should encourage you to get evaluated by a reproductive endocrinologist in order to get a clear picture of your condition. For example, if you have severe fallopian tube obstruction your only option may be the use of Western medicine in order to conceive. In that case, Chinese medicine can be used as an adjunct therapy to prepare you for assisted reproductive treatments like IVF. However, if your practitioner is unaware of that diagnosis you could be wasting precious time pursuing natural treatment.

Things to stay away from:

-Practitioners who give you promises that sound too good to be true e.g. “You can get pregnant in a month”. Nobody can really guarantee any results for sure. However, it is common for natural treatments to take longer in order to be successful. Three months of treatment are the minimum amount of time that you should consider. Some patients may require as much as one year of treatment. If you have been treated for over a year without success it is definitely time to consider other options.

-Practitioners who list unreasonably high success rates e.g. “75-80% of all my patients get pregnant”. It is important to know how big is their sample size. If somebody treated 3 infertility patients and all 3 happened to get pregnant that their success rate is 100%! Are the practitioners who list success rates counting live births or just pregnancies? Are practitioners counting patients who went through IVF and had acupuncture as their success stories? All of this questions are important when determining whether listed success rates are useful or not.

-Practitioners who claim that they have one and only special secret method that will bring you success. Needless to say, there isn’t a secret acupuncture point or herb that will cure your infertility. A successful treatment will probably have to include various diet and lifestyle changes, use of herbal medicines that are available to any practitioner and set of acupuncture points that every practitioner had to study.

I hope that these guidelines will be helpful for you and that you will be able to find the practitioner that meets your needs. I wish you all the best in your journey to become a parent!

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