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Fam Med. 2018 May;50(5):353-358. doi: 10.22454/FamMed.2018.662450.

A Qualitative Study of the Communication Process for Medical Acupuncture in Family Medicine.

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Department of Family Medicine, F. Edward H├ębert School of Medicine, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, MD.
STEM Translational Communication Center, University of Florida Cancer Center, Gainesville, FL.
Nellis Family Medicine Residency Program, Mike O'Calaghan Military Medical Center, Nellis Air Force Base, NV.



As evidence establishes the efficacy of medical acupuncture, more family physicians and family medicine residents may receive medical acupuncture training and need to know how to effectively communicate about the treatment option with patients. By identifying how physicians talk about acupuncture treatment with their patients, we aimed to develop a model for physician training that could enhance their ability to integrate and practice medical acupuncture in conventional clinical settings.


To capture the communication process that family physicians engage in when integrating acupuncture treatment into a clinical environment, we sought both physicians' and patients' perspectives. We conducted interviews with 17 family physicians and 15 patients in a US family medicine clinic that has integrated medical acupuncture into its practice. Audio recordings were transcribed and analyzed by two members of the study team in ATLAS.ti, using the constant comparative method.


Integrating acupuncture into family medicine entailed a three-phase communication process: (1) introduce acupuncture, (2) explain the medical process, and (3) evaluate treatment outcomes.


The emerging three-phase process of communicating acupuncture described here provides an initial model for teaching communication in the context of medical acupuncture. Given the exploratory nature of this initial study and the rarity of acupuncture treatment integrated into family medical settings, this is a first step in building knowledge in this realm of practice. Future research is needed to better understand the experience of patients who do not report notable results of acupuncture and to extend this study into other family medicine settings.

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