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Ten Reasons to Learn More About Community Acupuncture

By: Lisa Rohleder L.Ac.

It seems that everyone, one way or another, is feeling the effects of the recession. Many acupuncturists are noticing the repercussions on their practices of  lost jobs, decreased insurance benefits, and retirement savings pummeled by the stock market’s losses.

People are having a hard time paying for health care. Doesn’t this seem like a good time to investigate alternate business models for acupuncture, such as the low-cost, high-volume model promoted by the Community Acupuncture Network? 

Here are ten good reasons to learn more about community acupuncture:

1. Community acupuncture has been around forever - The historical effectiveness and wide popular use of acupuncture in Asia probably had a lot to do with ordinary people being able to get treatment frequently, regularly, and affordably, often together with their friends and families. Ask anyone who has studied in China about the great results they see from patients being treated together in informal settings! Honora Lee Wolfe and Bob Flaws of Blue Poppy recently came out publicly in support of community acupuncture. Bob Flaws has an interesting argument that the conventional high cost, low volume model of acupuncture practice was really designed by Baby Boomers, for Baby Boomers, based on Baby Boomer values and economics: Given that even the Baby Boomers don’t have that kind of money anymore, maybe it’s time to consider that maybe the future of acupuncture practice should look more like its past -- low cost and high volume.

2. Community acupuncture offers a recipe for a lively, social  practice - Even before the recession, many acupuncturists complained that they felt isolated in their practices.  The community acupuncture model helps a lot in this regard, because it makes it possible for those of us who practice it to treat a wide range of people within our own natural communities. When the cost of treatment is low, it’s easy to recommend it to everyone you know: your neighbors, parents and teachers at your child’s school, the nice people who bag your groceries, your favorite barista. Marketing becomes natural -- and fun.

3. Community acupuncture is a great way to develop yourself as a practitioner - You can’t gain real clinical confidence by reading books or going to workshops -- you can only do it by treating lots and lots of patients. In a community acupuncture practice, you get to treat all kinds of people for all kinds of problems, and you come to believe wholeheartedly in the power of acupuncture -- because you see it working with your own eyes, over and over and over.

4. You can get a huge amount of support from other acupuncturists via the Community Acupuncture Network ( -  The Community Acupuncture Network (CAN) is a nonprofit organization (501c6 ) dedicated to helping acupuncturists implement the community acupuncture business model.  We believe that there are more than enough patients for everybody! We also believe that all acupuncturists are each others’ best marketing, and more people getting acupuncture means more people getting acupuncture. CAN is something like an online support group, full of other acupuncturists who are rooting for your practice and who are genuinely thrilled at your success: just what every acupuncturist needs, right?

5. You don’t have to re-invent the wheel - Besides  being supportive, CAN is also a treasure trove of information. The CAN website is designed for open-sourcing; when a community acupuncturist figures out something that works, they post it on the practitioner forums so everyone else can use it too. CAN acupuncturists post their business plans, their marketing ideas, their flyer templates, their favorite points to treat headaches, the best places to find recliners, you name it -- and once you join CAN as a member, everybody’s good ideas are available to you.

6. You can set yourself free from billing insurance - Forever. Enough said?

7. You get great clinical results when patients can afford to get acupuncture frequently and regularly - Treating somebody two or three times a week is the best way to have them get better fast and to tell everyone they know about how wonderful acupuncture is. No matter how brilliant your clinical strategies are, if your patients can only afford to see you once every six weeks, your results are going to be unsatisfactory. Acupuncture requires repetition.

8. In order to be effective, the community acupuncture model requires you to look at yourself, your patients, and society as a whole in a new way; this is a good thing.  Many acupuncturists who discover CAN describe the tremendous relief they felt when they shifted their perspective to see a bigger picture. Acupuncturists who struggled for years with the conventional business model, who felt they could not build enough momentum or attract enough patients no matter how hard they worked, feel enormously liberated to discover that there is another approach.

9.  People are more open to community initiatives and grassroots-based models - When you open a community acupuncture clinic, even people who have never tried acupuncture will be excited that you are reaching out to your community, and they will support you.
10.  Finally, practicing community acupuncture is fun - Really. It’s energizing and uplifting to be busy doing acupuncture. It feels wonderful to help a lot of people. The community acupuncture model has made a lot of acupuncturists very happy; isn’t that enough reason to investigate it further?

Many acupuncturists who have started successful community clinics attended one of the Working Class Acupuncture trainings. We are happy to announce that the WCA training is now available in book form! The book is called Acupuncture Is Like Noodles, and it discusses the community acupuncture business model in great detail, down to point prescriptions and business systems. This book is the most comprehensive introduction to community acupuncture to date, and it is also a fundraiser for the Community Acupuncture Network!

So if you have been to a WCA training and need a refresher, or are curious about the model and want to learn more, or just want to support the Community Acupuncture Network, you can purchase a copy here:

WCA will donate a portion of the proceeds of each book to CAN. Thank you!

Excerpt from Part 3 of Acupuncture Is Like Noodles:

What do we mean when we say that the community acupuncture business model is self-sustaining and community based? We mean that we depend on, and fully trust, this endlessly renewing cycle of inexpensive treatments, great results, and lots of patients. We do not seek any other means of support for the clinic. This means that we do not bill insurance, nor do we have any relationship with an insurance company. It also means that we do not seek other sources of funding, such as grants. And we do not charge some patients market rates for conventional acupuncture with the idea that those patients will somehow fund low cost treatments for everybody else. Our clinic has only one source of support, and that is our community of patients, all of whom are on an equal footing.

Portland, Oregon, where we live, is blessed with a large number of pho (pronounced "fuh") restaurants. Pho is Vietnamese noodle soup: rice noodles in an aromatic broth, garnished (or not) with meat, accompanied by a plate of fresh bean sprouts, basil, and chilies. You can get a huge bowl for about six dollars. You can find pho at a few high-end restaurants -- of course you can, it’s delicious -- but most pho is served in very unpretentious settings that are notable for their basic decor and their ability to seat large family groups (think strip malls, fake plants, big round tables and plastic spoons). The basic menu never changes. A good pho restaurant is always full at all hours with all kinds of people: construction workers, executives on their lunch break, Vietnamese families with lots of little
kids, all of them eating the same noodle soup. We want our dining room, the business of providing acupuncture, to feel like and function like a good pho restaurant: reliable, uncomplicated, social and nourishing.

A low-cost, high-volume practice requires not only a lot of patients, but also a lot of systems, to sustain itself. An acupuncturist who is seeing only a handful of patients, spending a great deal of time with each one, and charging each patient a lot of money, might be able to get by without systems; he or she could do something different with every patient, every time, and compensate for chaos with lots of individual attention. Our clinic, on the other hand, has six full time acupuncturists, each seeing around 70 patients each week. Like a busy restaurant, we can’t tolerate inconsistency or chaos. We have had to develop an entire set of systems to make our clinic possible, and in the process we have become more and more enamored with our systems. The better they work, the more we love them, and the more we love them, the better they work.

Systems are what our dining room is all about, because they are the foundation of our relationships with our community.

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