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Acupuncture against my wishes

Q:  I had acupuncture today. The practitioner said he wanted to treat metal element and I specifically told him that was not the right thing for me. He went against my wishes and did it anyway and since I have been experiencing terrible symptoms from excessive confusion, dizziness, feeling sick, off balance and feel like all the energy from my body has been brought into my head. I feel worryingly ill. What should I do?  I have of course fired the practitioner as someone who goes against a patients wishes in this way should not be practicing as far as I am concerned. 

A: This is quite a tricky issue. There could be an argument here that by asking the practitioner not to do something, you were effectively withdrawing your consent to treatment. By carrying on in the way that he did he may have been technically in breach of his Code of Ethics. In situations like this, if we come across patients who have specific requests ('don't needle my feet', don't use moxa')  we can discuss with them the reasons why they might not choose to have this kind of treatment but in the end we have to find alternative ways of working with them.

The situation is a little more complex when it involves an aspect of the treatment where some form of diagnostic interpretation is called for. Treating acupuncture students can be something of a trial because they occasionally have a tendency to tell you what needs to be done, and can get quite indignant if you do something different. The bottom line, though, is that someone is paying you to use your skills and experience, and should in theory be left to get on and do what they do best.

However, many patients have now had considerable experience of acupuncture, and many are aware of things that work for them and things that don't. If a patient is reasonably well versed in the system of Chinese medicine they may well have sufficient understanding to be able to say what they can or cannot tolerate. If so, and if the practitioner feels that this is the only appropriate treatment, the only answer left to them would be 'I'm sorry that this is not possible, but in my judgement this is the only appropriate course of action and I would be unhappy to treat and charge you for an alternative treatment which I did not believe was the best possible option for you.' 

We can understand the strength of your feelings about what you consider to be a breach of trust, and we hope that you found another practitioner to help you who can make sense of the symptoms which you now have. This would be necessary to differentiate between those adverse effects which were a part of a process of recovery ('getting worse to get better' as is sometimes said) and adverse effects which may have arisen from incorrect treatment.

It is not our place here to test out responsibility and blame. Each professional body has its mechanisms for investigating what has happened when poor communication has resulted in problems or where a patient may feel that their wishes have been over-ridden. If you need to we are sure that you can find the appropriate conduit to make a formal complaint. We are simply sorry that you have had a poor experience of acupuncture treatment and hope that it has not put you off seeking help with another practitioner.

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