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J Altern Complement Med. 2017 Mar;23(3):222-226. doi: 10.1089/acm.2016.0419. Epub 2017 Feb 7.

Super-Users at an Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Teaching Clinic: Demographics and Unique Clinical Characteristics.

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Department of Research, Oregon College of Oriental Medicine , Portland, OR.



The use of acupuncture in the United States has consistently grown over the last two decades, and the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health has recently called for greater understanding of "real life outcomes and use" by complementary and alternative medicine users. This study assesses the demographics and utilization patterns of "super-users" treated at the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine intern clinic.


This was a retrospective chart review at the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine (OCOM) intern clinic, a large acupuncture and oriental medicine (AOM) school in Portland, Oregon. Participants were patients who were treated 100+ times at the OCOM between August 6, 2002, and 2012. The outcome measures were demographic and treatment characteristics, including sex, age, chief complaint, income, medication use, and visit patterns.


The super-user cohort comprised approximately 1.5% of the total annual patient population and 8% of total visits at the OCOM in any given year, with an average treatment duration of 4 years from visit 1 to visit 100, and a visit frequency of 32 visits per year. Similar to other studies, the super-user cohort consisted predominantly of older, female patients seeking treatment primarily for pain (57.3%). Prescription medication use (45.2%) was also similar to other acupuncture cohorts. In contrast to typical AOM patients, OCOM super-users were older, with 64% being age ≥50 years when initiating treatment, and a majority reported low-income status (92%).


Super-users represent a small yet real subset of AOM patients. They tend to be older, report lower income, and exhibit greater visit frequency than more typical AOM users. The factors motivating AOM super-user behavior may be different from those in other medical domains, notably emergency medicine, and likely include long-term management of chronic pain and other chronic conditions. Future studies into the long-term health outcomes of AOM super-users, as well as the economic impact on other health services, are warranted.


AOM; acupuncture; patient characteristics; super-users; visit characteristics

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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