Staying Relevant, Bringing Value: Tips for Acupuncturists Treating Infertility

Staying Relevant, Bringing Value: Tips for Acupuncturists Treating Infertility

Lorne Brown
tips for acupuncturists treating infertility
I want to be a relevant and valued as an acupuncturist.  I imagine most of my colleagues do too. It has been my experience that if you create good value for others (and more importantly they perceive it as good value for the fee you charge) then you can enjoy a rewarding and busy practice.

But as I watch how functional medicine is growing in popularity and how other health professions add acupuncture to their scope of practice, I am beginning to question the value I bring to the table as a Chinese Medicine Practitioner and if there is a future in store for me practicing the way I do currently.

I attended a functional medicine conference in New York in February 2014, and over 1000 healthcare professionals attended, mostly medical doctors. To my surprise, not only can these MDs offer prescription drugs, insured lab testing and, in some cases, surgery, these doctors also have advanced knowledge in dietary therapy, detox, supplements, mind-body techniques and some even offer acupuncture and Chinese herbs.  If I put myself in the public's shoes, I would seek out a   medical doctor who can prescribe drugs, but opts for a more natural approach and recommends to me the option to  detox and take herbs and acupuncture.  Why visit two practitioners when I can go to just one?  This paradigm shift in medicine is great for us as members of the public, but it makes me concerned for the future job security of acupuncturists over the next decade.

To add more concern to my doubt and anxiety about how I am going to feed myself and my family, I built my TCM practice on treating infertility and hope I'm not becoming next Blockbuster Video Store (= irrelevant).  Back in 2002, the success rate of IVF was about 25%  and there was a bit of social stigma being infertile and having a "test tube baby," so spending at least three months receiving preconception care using Chinese medicine was very popular and we were often the first choice of treatment by those struggling with infertility.  But now in 2014 there seems to be much less of a social stigma using IVF.  Plus, IVF advancements such as chromosomal screening and pre-diagnostic genetic testing (PDG) have changed success rates from 25% to upward over 60% if they get a normal embryo to transfer.  So the trend is to move into IVF and not even use acupuncture or Chinese medicine as support leading up to IVF and even less IVF clinics are recommending acupuncture on embryo transfer day.

I have never been one to sit idly by.   I learned early on to be successful that you need to create value for others.  So if you look at the courses we offer  on Pro D Seminars and Medigogy  you will notice the advanced fertility theme.  Since I treat fertility, there are several courses on treating infertility, but there are non-fertility courses too.  I have been very deliberate on the topics I have asked my experienced presenters to prepare for me and my colleagues.  I looked back on my practice since 2000 and I pulled out the areas relating to infertility that western medicine and others modalities do not have a good solution.  IVF does not have an answer for advanced maternal age or egg quality.  Donor eggs are not something most women want to use immediately, so many women are still willing to work with us naturally or to prepare for an IVF (using their own eggs).  But we need to get good results if we expect coupes to line up at the door.   So I invited fertility expert and author of The Infertility Cure and The Way of The Fertile Soul, Randine Lewis, to share with us her unique approach using Chinese medicine/acupuncture to optimize egg quality and address fertility issues for women of advanced maternal age.  If I can treat this well I know I am golden for a long time.  I often refer to Brandon Horn's recorded course on Optimizing Ovarian Reserve to remind me of the science behind how TCM can help with egg quality.  I do this to protect and grow my confidence in our medicine.  Confidence is key and it actually can impact your effectiveness.  Lack of confidence negatively impacts intention.  So I rarely watch a course just once.

I know from my experience that couples love to know why they are experiencing infertility.  And age is not an acceptable answer to many, and age is not the only factor related to infertility.  I cannot tell you how many times women have been diagnosed as unexplained  or told they are infertile by their MD because they are 40. At Acubalance, we offer more comprehensive testing than the standard fertility work-up  and have found the real cause behind couples infertility such as thyroid/adrenal issue, food sensitivity, low Vit D and some minreal deficiencies. The list goes on. It is important to know all about the different tests and what is available to your clients. Patients can relate to testing and they feel much better leaving no stone unturned.  And when you dig deep for answers, you can find the underlying cause and correct it.  I invited Leslie Oldershaw to put together a Lab Testing and Hormonal Assessment for Infertility: Treatment success depends on diagnosing the real cause for us so we can understand the basic fertility work up plus the extra test involved if you want to avoid IVF and treat naturally the underlying cause. Do not worry if you cannot order these tests.  Knowing about them and counseling patients will be of great service.  We used to refer out to an MD and ND locally until we brought on our own ND to do all the testing at Acubalance.  It only created better trust and confidence in our clinic by recommending and referring out for these tests and we saved many of them money and the cost of emotional challenges of needing multiple IVFs or IVF at all based on our findings. 

I am addressing the growth in functional medicine practitioners and other healthcare providers who offer acupuncture by accepting a hard truth that what I have been taught, TCM, is in my opinion not great Chinese medicine.  I was basically taught Zang Fu diagnosis and to be a bare foot doctor.  If it was so effective. I would not need to borrow from other healthcare systems and recommend high dose vitamins, western botanicals and mind-body therapies.  I am speaking for myself here.  Maybe you find the TCM you were taught effective.  I know from my exposure to many in our field through my work with Pro D Seminars that there is better Chinese medicine out there than what i was taught.  I do not believe I can compete with an MD who practices similar to me who also has the credibility of being an MD.  It is not hard for these functional medicine docs to treat blood deficiency with ST 36, Ren 12, SP-6, Liv 8, BL-17 etc) and prescribe a bottle of patent formula like Ba Zheng San or Si Wu tang.  

This is why I have added courses from the likes of Sharon Weizenbaum, Ed Neal (Neijing Acupuncture) and Heiner Fruehauf .  These online courses are about getting back to the root of our medicine before it became westernized.  (If you think night sweats =  Yin deficiency then you would benefit from studying with these modern day masters). 
Update: Since the blog post in macrh 2014 we have added more excellent Chinese medicine course such as Gua sha by Arya Nielsen and Hu Xi-Shu’s ideas regarding Shang Han Lun formulas in relation to the Eight Parameters: Diagnosis and Formulas by Dr. Feng Shi Lun so we Acubalance can offer premium Chinese medicne along with excellent functional Medicine. Our in house ND, Dr. Kali MacIsaac, now offer IV drips and pushes.

I have heard stories and read case studies of experienced practitioners choosing the right formula and it working like a lock and key and clearing up complex conditions in a matter of days!  I wish effective Chinese was as easy as learning TCM.  But like anything of value, you have to pay with effort.  It requires dedicated study.  Thankfully Sharon Weizenbaum,  who is a skilled clinician and continues to invest in herself through continued study with masters, offers classes.  What is great about Sharon is she is able to take complex material and years of experience and distil it down so the average person like me can have access to this knowledge/experience it and incorporate into practice. I should mention that she offers a two Graduate Mentorship Program (Not offered through Pro D Seminars) but it is worth mentioning if you want to become an excellent practitioner.  Sharon has also put together an upcoming live webinar  for treating those complex knotty disease that are stubborn.   There is a FREE one hour teaser of her course on the course description page here.  The date for this live webinar is May 3rd & 4th and you can also attend live in person in San Francisco. (Both groups will receive access to recording for at 2 years)

So I plan to remain relevant however It will require more effort and time for me to invest in myself by studying much more.  It also means I need to look for areas that other healthcare practitioners cannot treat well but where there is a demand.   My role is in helping couples create healthy babies, good jing (epigenetics).  IVF can definitely help couples conceive.  But Chinese medicine does a better job of creating health for both parents-to-be and optimizing the health blueprint for their child.  So you can be sure you'll see more courses on Pro D Seminars and Medigogy to help us be infertility superstars and well as generalists who practice really effective Chinese medicine.

I plan to maintain a busy practice long-term regardless of the changes and competition coming because I continue to invest in myself.  Here are some of the courses myself (and my team at Acubalance) have taken to confidently treat infertility.  As you can see, we are not weekend warriors that take one 14-hour course and believe we have "arrived".  We study well beyond our required 25 hours per year in CEU/PDA  so we can continue be of value to our patients. 
I wish you the best of luck and invite comments!

Dr. Lorne Brown B.Sc., CPA, Dr. TCM, FABORM, CHt

Update:  Since the posting of this blog in  March 2014 we have added more functional medicine courses to both Pro D Seminars and  The most obvious is by Dan Kalish, Introducing Functional Medicine into Your Acupuncture Clinic.

Online Fertility Courses I recommend

IVF & Egg quality

Specific conditions - It is time to go into depth of the common conditions we see in clinic (PCOS, Subclinical & autoimmune Hypothyroid, and endometriosis).  We have done the one-hour breadth work, now it's time to really immerse ourselves and go deep.

Most popular courses based on feedback

5 Steps to building a successful fertility practice