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Acupuncture licensing requirements pass Senate

By Allison Kite | March 23, 2016

A weeks-long struggle to compromise on scopes of practice ended Tuesday in the Senate’s passing of Senate Bill 363, which would require acupuncturists to be licensed to practice in Kansas.

Kansas is one of five states that don’t require licensure for acupuncturists as done for other medical practices, according to the Kansas Association of Oriental Medicine. But that could change if the Senate bill makes its way through the House. After several amendments, the bill passed the Senate 38-2. It’s on a list of bills for a conference committee meeting Wednesday.

Photo by iStock Kansas is one of five states that don’t require licensure for acupuncturists as done for other medical practices, according to the Kansas Association of Oriental Medicine.

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Controversy over the bill began during committee debate. The definition of acupuncture in the original bill included dry needling, a practice physical therapists were afraid they wouldn’t be able to perform if it fell solely under the scope of the new acupuncture licenses.

The bill has provisions to allow both groups to perform dry needling. It requires the licensure of acupuncturists but exempts physical therapists from having to be licensed as acupuncturists in order to perform dry needling. Physical therapists will have dry needling added to their scope of practice through a legislative amendment to the Physical Therapy Practice Act.

Susie Harms, president of the Kansas Physical Therapy Association, said her organization was never opposed to licensing acupuncturists. Physical therapists wanted the ability to perform dry needling, which she said is distinct from traditional acupuncture.

Both dry needling and acupuncture involve using needle insertions in the surface of the muscle to relieve tension or pain. Acupuncture can also be used for other medical purposes, including weight loss or treatment of infertility or depression. Acupuncturists use needle treatments based on Eastern theories about energy flow in the body, while physical therapists find trigger points in the muscles before placing a needle to ease tension.

Patient and practitioner protection

Harms said the bill represented a good compromise between the groups.

It includes a provision asking the Kansas Board of Healing Arts to adopt rules and regulations concerning education and training requirements for physical therapists who want to practice dry needling.

The Kansas Association of Oriental Medicine said the new licensing requirements for acupuncturists protect patients and practitioners. Patients have assurance that their acupuncturist is qualified with a license, and acupuncturists are allowed to practice legally where they were in a gray area before, according to the group.

Greg Boyle, who is mostly retired from his Leawood acupuncture practice, was among those advocating for acupuncture licenses in Kansas. He said licensure means a “small-business boom” and a wider range of health options for patients.

Boyle also practiced in Missouri, where he advocated for that state’s licensure requirement and received the first license issued.

Before the licensure requirement was enacted in Missouri in 2002, Boyle said there were about a dozen practitioners in the state. Now there are about 140, he said.

While some people may be surprised that Kansas doesn’t yet require licensure, he realizes what a challenge it is to get the bill passed.

“The reality is that it takes a lot of effort to organize the acupuncturists that are already in a state that has no licensure, and states that have no licensure typically have very few acupuncturists,” Boyle said.

Preventing unsafe practices

People who practice acupuncture without proper training can pose a danger to patient health, Boyle said.

He said about 10 years ago a nurse registered in Oklahoma was giving seminars on putting staples in people’s ears and promising it would help them lose weight and quit smoking.

“No acupuncturist that has proper training in the nation accepts the fact that a staple is a safe, therapeutic medium,” Boyle said.

Studies from the World Health Organization and the American Journal of Acupuncture also have warned that unsafe acupuncture can lead to health risks.

Multiple attempts to get comment from the Kansas Association of Oriental Medicine were unsuccessful.