Perspectives on change: A patient-centred view on the effects of traditional acupuncture

By Alison J Gould


Traditional Chinese medicine is based upon various beliefs and assumptions concerning the nature of the individual. A central assumption is that the individual enjoys a unity of physical, mental-emotional and spiritual attributes and that health implies adequate function on all these levels. Treatment, the exposure of a patient to the practitioner and the intervention, can elicit changes to all these levels of function.

In a recent report on integrated healthcare it was noted that:
“There is a need for further work in the development of suitable outcome measures by which to evaluate the full benefit experienced by users of complementary therapies” (FIM 1997).

This study has used the means of a questionnaire survey and in-depth interviews to record and classify the nature of changes experienced by patients of traditional acupuncture. It extends existing patient centred studies in that it has focused on the experience of less physical change and the importance of such change to patients. It also enquires into what patients most value about acupuncture treatment.

Results show that patients experienced a range of different physical, mental/emotional and outlook changes, which they attributed to acupuncture. The majority put more value on the non-physical changes even though almost all patients originally sought help with physical problems. Many patients changed the focus of their treatment over time to seek help with other, often more general, health concerns. They also introduced a number of lifestyle, self-help measures into their lives. It is unlikely that these changes would all be adequately recorded using existing outcome measures. Elements of the acupuncture service particularly valued by patients were the holistic and patient-centred nature of the care given, and its potential for aiding health maintenance. The findings are an important incentive for practitioners to work in an holistic manner.