Telehealth is the use of technology to support long-distance health and clinical care. This has become a widely used practice in recent years, with the ASPE tallying 52.7 million telehealth visits in 2020, a huge boost compared to an approximate 840,000 visits in 2019. This shows how telehealth has become an invaluable innovation in the field of public health that could continue to develop over the next several decades.
On another hand, we have acupuncture, a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that has already been around for the last 3000 years. Acupuncture is deeply personal, requiring a licensed acupuncturist to locate the meridians in your body where qi resides. With how telehealth has come to be a staple in healthcare, long-time enthusiasts who swear by the benefits of acupuncture have questioned whether harmony is possible between tradition and innovation.
Let’s take a closer look at this below.
Benefits of acupuncture
Acupuncture is an ancient practice that bases itself on the idea of qi, the body’s vital energy. Using very thin needles, acupuncture can stimulate pressure points and meridians on your body to correct any imbalances of qi, which is oftentimes the cause of a variety of ailments and conditions that you may currently have.
The practice can thus have a range of uses! Our previous write-up on Benefits of Acupuncture Care lists arthritis, chronic pain, depression, and weight loss among several other health conditions that acupuncture care can help with. Here, the very thin needles can stimulate the production of brain chemicals like endorphins that promote relaxation and boost mood while also reducing blood pressure and boosting immune system functions.
Telehealth reached the heights of its popularity in recent years. However, the concept of delivering medical care using information technologies can actually date back to a century ago. Only the telegraph and the telephone accommodated communication then, and it wasn’t until 1958 that two-way video communication became a reality for telemedicine.
Today, this seamless innovation is adopted across the globe. Wheel highlights how telemedicine software and services ease burnout for nurse practitioners in Minnesota and other states across the United States, as well as other healthcare staff shortages by allowing healthcare providers to offer flexible clinical services. These platforms can also adapt to patient needs and remove obstacles from the patient journey such as transportation and waiting times.
This could become key for a number of senior patients who depend on acupuncture for their care. While acupuncturists can’t needle someone through a screen, practitioners of acupuncture therapy can rely on their wider arsenal of tools beyond needles to provide other holistic healing techniques. That’s because part of the underlying wisdom of TCM is its focus on self-care and health promotion.
With telehealth, acupuncturists can impart dietary advice, lead people through breathing exercises or body awareness techniques, and offer herbal medicine. Some can also guide patients through self-applied acupressure treatments. A survey in NIH recounts how telehealth eased stress and pain, and provided immune support to patients who were simultaneously educated on nutrition- or herbal-based therapies.
Research on acupressure continues to grow as its positive impacts on the treatment of chronic medical conditions develop. A study published in the Journal of the ASPMN looks into the development of an auricular point acupressure (APA) mobile app that patients used to guide themselves when learning and self-administering APA to manage their chronic low back pain. They were then provided the opportunity for questions and were able to verify the accuracy of the self-administered APA using telehealth. After four weeks, participants in the app and telehealth group experienced a 29% decrease in pain intensity during the post-intervention time point.
This shows us the potential for acupuncture to remain relevant in the time of digitally-provided healthcare. Acupuncturists and acupuncture enthusiasts alike can look forward to how the century-long tradition can only evolve along with the times to offer more holistic and accessible care.
Rebecca M H Kitzerow is a Licensed Acupuncturist practicing in La Center, Washington. With over a decade of experience she has won 10 Nattie consumer choice awards from Natural Awakenings Magazine since 2014.