Many practitioners are interested in research but few want to do it, and even fewer actually participate in a project. This is entirely appropriate and is true of orthodox medicine as much as acupuncture. Being interested in research may mean no more than taking notice of headlines appearing in acupuncture newsletters and journals, websites and the general media. High profile research information may impact on your practice through public and orthodox physician perceptions. To make the most of such information you will need a basic knowledge of research methodology and the ability to critically assess study reports. Most acupuncture training course in the UK and abroad do now cover this; further opportunities are available in university research methodology modules and summer schools, and through organizations such as the College of Medicine http://www.collegeofmedicine.org.uk/
Help on the internet
- Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (CASP) http://www.phru.nhs.uk/pages/phd/casp.htm: aims to help individuals to develop the skills to make sense of research evidence
- How to Read a Paper http://www.bmj.com/content/315/7104/364.extract
Many practitioners have been involved passively in research as the target of acupuncture student surveys. They may be more interested to participate by treating patients in the clinical studies run by professional researchers. This may involve a short amount of training and a little extra time in introducing patients to the research and asking them to fill out questionnaires or diaries, but the main work and problems are left to the researchers. Treatment could be left to the practitioner’s discretion or it could be following a rigid protocol, or something intermediate, depending on the nature of the trial.
Not all clinical research involves a trial (see below). Researchers may also want to:
- Get practitioners’ or patients’ perceptions and accounts of various aspects of treatment (generally through questionnaires or interviews)
- Observe/audiotape consultations and treatment sessions
- Evaluate the reliability of diagnostic techniques such as pulse and tongue readings or diagnostic categories such as TCM syndromes
- Record the incidence of adverse events.
It is becoming common now for the various stakeholders, including patients, practitioners, service commissioners etc to be consulted in the planning and design of healthcare research. It is particularly important for traditionally-based acupuncture that the research questions and the methodology fit with the theoretical framework and the common practices of the therapy (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3070690/). We encourage interested practitioners to respond when their opinions are sought and to look for opportunities for this sort of dialogue with researchers.
For those practitioners who wish to do more than read about, or join in, other people’s research the next section is for you.