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Patient’s Own Words: Summary

MAS Patient Satisfaction Survey: Final Report                                                  January 2000


In October 1999, the Maryland Acupuncture Society (MAS) mailed out survey packets to all of the 183 practicing MAS members.  The instructions asked acupuncturists to have up to 20 of their patients complete patient satisfaction surveys during the first two weeks of November.  The anonymity of both patients and acupuncturists was guaranteed.

Over 1000 completed surveys were received from patients of 95 different acupuncturists, for a very respectable 54% practitioner participation rate.  A total of 968 surveys were used in the descriptive analyses reported here (3 were incomplete, 33 surveys arrived too late to be included).  This report also includes selected comments from the 52% of the sample who responded to the invitation to “write their own stories” or thoughts at the end of the survey.

The large majority of respondents were women.  Most were also in their 40’s and 50’s, very well educated, employed outside the home, and living in households with incomes well over the median for this area.

Just over half of all respondents had been seeing their acupuncturists for more than a year.  In addition to acupuncture with needles, large numbers of patients reported receiving moxa/moxibustion treatments (56%) and herbs (41%).  Most also said that their acupuncturists offered advice concerning self-care, especially dietary changes.

Only one fourth of the respondents had any kind of insurance coverage at all – the rest paid the entire fee themselves.  The typical fee charged by acupuncturists was in the $60 to $70 range.  Although respondents stated that they would like to see better insurance coverage, the majority did not find restrictive plans acceptable.  Even with most paying full price, 54% said that the cost of their treatment was excellent, considering the benefits they received.  Only 25% were as positive about the cost/benefit ratio of their non-acupuncture care.

The reasons for seeking acupuncture care were varied, including “seeking care of my whole being” (59%) and “needed help dealing with stress” (38%), as well as the more conventional “seeking help for a specific illness or health concern” (70% - multiple answers were allowed).  The specific conditions for which patients most often sought care included stress and tension (35%), back pain (18%) and other kinds of pain (21%), depression and moods swings (16%) and headaches (15%).

Ratings of the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating these conditions were very high.  In the case of stress, for example, 68% said that acupuncture was a “very effective” treatment for this condition, and another 29% said it was moderately effective. With respect to pain, 55% and 62% respectively, said that acupuncture was very effective for back and other kinds of pain, and only 12% said it was not all, or only mildly effective.  Effectiveness ratings for other conditions were similarly positive.

A large section of the survey asked respondents to rate acupuncturists and other health care providers along a variety of dimensions related to their practices.  Ratings for acupuncturists were overwhelmingly positive – 99% indicated that their acupuncturists spent enough time with them and really listened and tried to understand their concerns (the two most important factors for most patients).  In contrast, only 71% were satisfied with the time they spent with non-acupuncture providers, although 81% said their conventional practitioners listened and tried to understand their concerns.  In two other areas, the extent to which health care providers “motivate me to take care of myself” and “make me feel better about myself as a person,” 98% of the respondents gave positive ratings to their acupuncturists while only 61% to 69% said these statements were true of their non-acupuncture practitioners.  Another area where acupuncturists markedly outperformed conventional practitioners was in the time patients spent waiting to be seen;  99% of the respondents were satisfied with the waiting time at their acupuncturists’ offices in contrast to only 62% for other practitioners.

Another set of question focused on patients’ personal experiences with acupuncture.  Again, responses were extremely favorable.  As a result of their treatments, 90% to 99% of the patients surveyed felt that they functioned better in the world, had more energy and focus, and were less susceptible to illness.  Acupuncture patients find their treatments relaxing and enjoyable, and value the immediate feedback and sense of partnership with their acupuncturists.  Acupuncturists also tend to be viewed as both holistic and spiritual practitioners.

The benefits of acupuncture also have health care cost implications.  A large majority feel that because of acupuncture, they have been able to reduce their visits to medical doctors and limit their use of prescription drugs.  A sizable number (14% of the entire sample) also indicated that acupuncture had helped them avoid surgery.  It is noteworthy that in a field still dominated by allopathic medicine, over one third of the respondents (39%) considered their acupuncturist, not their MD, to be their primary health care provider.  Among the 11% who could not choose one over the other, most indicated that both were important, they simply served different functions.

In summary, the specific questions about treatment effectiveness and personal experiences with acupuncture, as well as the more general questions about overall satisfaction with acupuncture cost, outcomes, quality of care, and interactions with practitioners, confirm that acupuncture is a highly valued, highly satisfying experience.  The benefits include, but are clearly not limited to, the resolution of physical problems.  In their acupuncturists, patients find a combination of skill, caring, and understanding that nurtures them on many levels, and is essential to maintaining the health of their bodies, minds, and spirits.