Labor shortages and increased demand have struck every industry in recent years. Take a drive through Maine and one might notice that the signs at shops and restaurants that once enticed visitors to sample their uniquely Maine offerings now bear a request for part-time and full-time help. These businesses are still open, but with reduced hours and longer lines. The theories to explain the imbalance are debatable. And though we depend on hospitality and entertainment for their economic impact, it is clear that in matters concerning health care, timely access is a must.

One solution to the problem of accessibility in standard medical care is to seek complementary care. Acupuncture has become a trusted and allied health partner in the care of acute and chronic pain. Medicare announced in January 2020 that it had approved the use of acupuncture for chronic low back pain. With this announcement, the American Society of Acupuncturists has been working diligently with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to allow acupuncturists to be recognized as Medicare providers.

Maine acupuncturists are reporting greater numbers of their referrals are coming from physician offices. What physicians are starting to realize is that acupuncture benefits much more than just pain. Acupuncture has been found to be beneficial in supporting reproductive health; cardiovascular health; some neurological conditions, and mental and emotional well-being.

In fact, one of acupuncture’s greatest supporters is VA Healthcare. The Department of Veterans Affairs established the Whole Health System in 2018; since then, VA facilities across the nation have implemented this style of supportive health care, which focuses on veteran-identified health goals, while utilizing integrated health care consisting of mindfulness-based practices to achieve these goals. Acupuncture, yoga, tai chi, meditation and massage are among the practices that are available to veterans seeking care for physical and mental and emotional well-being.

When considering the period of time patients may spend waiting to get an appointment with their primary care provider, or worse, discovering that they have been assigned a new primary care provider, it makes sense for patients to consider a complement to their care. An example from my office is the patient with muscular and/or skeletal pain who has been to the primary care provider and is waiting for a referral for a consult with the orthopedic surgeon. In some cases, the patient who sought acupuncture for temporary pain relief found that there was no longer the need for a surgical consult. This is a best-case scenario and does not happen with every patient. However, patients consistently report that acupuncture care improves quality of life while waiting for their next doctor’s appointment.

Here at home, there is a tremendous opportunity to be of service. The populations that need complementary health services are everywhere in Maine. We have the fifth highest population of veterans per capita in the country. We are the oldest state by median age in the nation, and the second oldest state is right next door, in New Hampshire. Maine acupuncturists can help alleviate the critical need for health care in Maine and provide relief, healing and care where it matters most.

To receive medical care in a timely fashion is no longer something Mainers can take for granted. The medical system is greatly burdened and stretched to unfathomable limits. Patients are aware, but providers feel this burden as well, mentally and physically. Finding a solution to this problem cannot wait any longer. Seeking acupuncture care is one answer to a growing problem.

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