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J Altern Complement Med. 2011 Jan;17(1):19-25. doi: 10.1089/acm.2010.0061. Epub 2011 Jan 16.

How patients choose acupuncturists: a mixed-methods project.

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  • 1Department of Primary Medical Care, University of Southampton School of Medicine, Southampton, UK.



Patients can have difficulties choosing acupuncturists in the United Kingdom because acupuncturists are not all subject to statutory regulation. Research has identified factors that influence patients' choice of general practitioner. However, how patients choose acupuncturists has not been studied. The aim was to investigate how patients choose acupuncturists and to identify which factors might influence this choice.


A mixed-methods design used an exploratory qualitative study followed by a quantitative study. The qualitative study explored patients' experiences of acupuncture. The quantitative vignette study investigated the impact of patient gender and practitioner factors (gender, training location, and qualifications) on choice of acupuncturist.


In the qualitative study, 35 acupuncture patients (recruited through maximum variation sampling from seven clinics and the community) participated in semistructured interviews about their acupuncture experiences. In the quantitative study, 73 participants imagined wanting to consult an acupuncturist for back pain. They rated 8 fictional acupuncturists; ratings were analyzed using analysis of covariance.


Patients wanted qualified, personable acupuncturists and valued recommendations from trusted others. Without such recommendations, potential patients preferred female acupuncturists (F(1,69)=4.504, p<0.05) and those with medical qualifications (F(1,69)=44.832, p<0.01).


The decision to consult a particular acupuncturist is not straightforward. Acupuncturists' trustworthiness and technical competence are important to (potential) patients; practitioner gender also influenced preferences. Patients need to be informed about proposals concerning statutory regulation in CAM and its implications; conventional practitioners might be able to better support their patients wanting to consult acupuncturists.

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