“We thought it was really important to present something that was a little more collaborative and talk about how multimodal interventional therapy can be helpful for patients based on our experience. The gist of the talk was the importance of collaboration,” said Dr. Goree in an interview. He is a director of the chronic pain division and an associate professor of anesthesiology at UMAS.

Stigma around Acupuncture

Acupuncture acceptance among patients and physicians varies widely, especially by geography, with greater willingness to try it on the east and west coasts than in the south, where Drs. Hyde and Goree practice.

“I think it’s a mixed bag depending on where you are, your level of experience, and openness,” she explained.

Dr. Goree agreed, citing his own training in New York and Atlanta, where acupuncturists were embedded in clinics and part of multimodal pain management. “I think your average run-of-the-mill pain doc probably does not think that acupuncture provides very much, and physicians often fall prey to the idea that if we didn’t learn it in medical school, and insurance doesn’t cover it, it doesn’t work,” said Dr. Goree. “I think that is a short-sighted view of medical treatment. To take any treatment or any disease and discount it because it’s not in our textbooks, I think is a mistake on the part of medical professionals.”

More than a year ago, he called Dr. Hyde, so desperate for relief from a muscle spasm that he was willing to try his daughter-in-law’s unorthodox approach. “He calls me and says, ‘I know this isn’t going to work, but can you try that stuff on me?’ I did a very light treatment and he has not thrown his back out in over a year. I get a lot of referrals from him now. He’s like, ‘my daughter-in-law can fix your back.’”

When to Refer for Acupuncture

As one of the only physician acupuncturists in the area, Dr. Hyde gets lots of referrals in Little Rock. “People are reaching out to ask for my assistance because unfortunately, in Arkansas, I’m one of the only physician acupuncturists and if there’s going to be a segue from traditional Western medicine to Eastern medicine or acupuncture, most physicians feel more comfortable saying, ‘I’m handing off my patient to another physician who understands things.’ I just think that I’m a good bridge to maybe Eastern medicine for them or it gives them peace of mind,” said Dr. Hyde.

Acupuncture as Part of Biopsychosocial Pain Management

Dr. Goree concurred, citing the importance of multimodal pain management. “I think it’s about having a collaborative spirit and building a trusted network of practitioners around you to help take care of patients. I don’t think a physician would ever say that it was difficult to find a neurosurgeon to refer [a patient] to. I think we also need physical therapists, acupuncturists, chiropractors, and all sorts of different modalities of care – addiction, psychiatry, psychologists, counselors, etc.”

One element of sending patients to an acupuncturist is the potential for conflict between Eastern and Western medicine. An acupuncturist may recommend a course of action to a patient that the physician disagrees with, such as stopping a blood pressure medication, which happened to Dr. Hyde. “I said, ‘You know what? I would disagree. I think you that you need to stay on your blood pressure medicine for now. Maybe we can wean it off, but I would recommend that we talk to your primary care [physician] about that. So, I get to have both hats on and kind of bridge that gap,” she shared.

Practical Takeaways

In the end, the important thing is to have an open mind. “Think outside the box so that the benefits of other practitioners, other eyes on that patient, could really be utilized to help them. Insomnia that we’re not treating, diagnosing depression, things like that. That is where colleagues, physician acupuncturists, and licensed acupuncturists can really come in and help with those quality-of-life things that maybe mainstream pain physicians don’t have time for or don’t have a good fix for. If you’re having a couple of those patients that are just hard to treat, be open-minded because I think it’s worth a try,” said Dr. Hyde.

“I agree,” said Dr. Goree. “If you’re a pain doctor, you’re never batting 100%.”