Cost, and my business/treatment philosophy
Updated: Nov 2, 2020
As per my previous blog, cost is a major deterrent to people getting the medical help they need, specifically becoming and remaining patients of acupuncture. I believe this so much that I dedicated quite a lengthy blog to this issue. It doesn’t help matters, that even if you’re fortunate enough to have health insurance coverage, that acupuncture falls into a grey area where it’s only covered by insurance plans less than half the time. This is a tremendous disadvantage for the average acupuncturist and the acupuncture medical industry on a whole, when we’re competing against other medical modalities that have greater chance of being covered.
When I opened my own practice I knew what I was up against and decided it would benefit both myself and my patients to maintain a competitive and modest fee schedule with quick and effective treatment plans.
Let’s begin with cost for those who have absolutely no health benefits for treatment. A quick search tells me one session is between $60-120, $75 being the national average, the Tri-State metro area being the most expensive with some elite practices charging as much as $250 for initial consultations and $150 for follow up visits. One can certainly find treatments for less in the form of community style facilities, but with some limitations on privacy and treatment styles.
So I settled on $55 being my magic number for single visits and $425 being a discounted package of ten visits for those who are aware that it generally takes 5-15 visits to see improvement and stabilize an average condition.
If you care about the actual economics as to how I decided on that number it’s because a while back I read another knowledgeable acupuncturist named Matthew Bauer who learned of a study in Germany that tested the efficacy of acupuncture as a treatment modality. The finding was that acupuncture remained a cost effective treatment option until the cost rose above $50/treatment. I found this to be true for both the practitioner and the patient after having been in this field for several years.
The bottom line is that treatment price allows me to bring acupuncture to the greatest number of people while covering my overhead and making a living. Much more than that and treatment becomes too expensive relative to other options. Too much and too little generally doesn’t lead to long term business success - any business.
Beyond attracting the patient who is paying out of pocket, my next goal was to reach as many potential patients who already have the necessary benefits. I started by joining as many health insurance networks that recognize acupuncturists. Aetna, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cigna, and United Health Care are just some of the larger parent companies that members might recognize by popularity. By being an In-Network provider I feel I have a better chance being found by members who seek providers within their networks. Even if a member’s plan offers Out-of-Network benefits, it makes more financial sense to find an In-Network provider to keep their out of pocket costs as low as possible as out of network services usually must adhere to higher deductibles.
With these two issues being covered, what is left is personal treatment style. As much as I love seeing a busy practice, I feel overall patient morale is highest when experiencing quick results and being released from damage control type of care to intermittent whenever-you-feel-you-need-me type of care. I teach my patients that if acupuncture can help then results should be noticed by the fifth or sixth treatment. If a patient follows their treatment plan for the 5-7 visits and cannot perceive any benefits such as a decrease in either intensity or number of episodes, then it’s time to start discussing more serious treatment options.
80-90% of my patients see an improvement in their conditions within 5-15 treatments. I don’t believe more expensive treatments are better treatments, and I don’t believe holding onto or giving hope to patients longer than 10 visits is wise or ethical.