I met Dr Hamblin-Brown (who prefers to be called DJ) at Tunbridge Wells Hospital emergency department, and spent half an hour talking to him about the role Five Element Acupuncture might play in Integrated Medicine. During our chat DJ talked about his first experience of acupuncture while teaching at the London Institute of Five Element Acupuncture in London, his progression to having treatment himself and his current thoughts about Integrated Medicine and specifically how acupuncture may have a role to play in the long-term care of people attending A&E.
Acupuncture and emergency medicine?
As you would expect, DJ is clear about the role and purpose of emergency medicine and the vital work done by A&E departments around the country, but he also recognises that a lot of A&E resources are spent on chronic conditions.
While perhaps not life-threatening, worsening or fluctuating symptoms often prompt a visit to A&E where the patient is extensively examined and tested, but where the resulting diagnosis is inconclusive.The patient then leaves without a different, more helpful, way forward.
Could acupuncture, in a hospital setting, help in those areas where western medicine does not excel? DJ’s feeling is it probably would, but it would take careful thought and execution for it to be effective and viable.
Integrated Medicine – the integration of conventional and complementary treatments – is not a new concept and most of my patients prefer (as do I) to have access to both depending on what is needed. Identifying key areas of efficacy and need in both acupuncture and conventional medicine would be a good start.
Joining the dots – a path to integrated medicine
The lack of scientific explanation for acupuncture has long been a barrier to its acceptance by conventional medicine. DJ touches recent theory of the role the fascia play in explaining the existence and mechanism for the acupuncture meridian system. This is huge.That there may be an explanation for the meridians, which, as DJ says, Western Science views as “random lines drawn on a body”, is definitely a game changer.
It would mean that a couple of thousand years ago mindful acupuncturists knew something that we’re only now beginning to understand. And that the whole acupuncture meridian system was hiding in plain sight. As DJ points out that because of this there is “a synthesis, whereby we have a view of the body which incorporates both acupuncture and Western Medicine…”
This is an important concept and is definitely something I’ll come back to in this blog.
Acupuncture research and asking the right questions
We talked about the difficulty of conducting research into acupuncture – something I’ve always felt strongly about, so strongly I even attempted to answer the question in my undergraduate dissertation. At best it is difficult to do worthwhile research into how (and if) acupuncture works, but when we are faced with trying to fit one system into another’s research methods, this becomes more difficult still.
DJ makes the point that using methods that are optimised to investigate a given condition in isolation (like whether a specific drug works on a given condition) with a modality that is fundamentally holistic in nature is probably not going to be worthwhile. Inserting needles into a patient and accessing qi to achieve an overall balance, is very different to prescribing a specific drug for a specific issue.
The gold-standard research methodology in, say, a drug trial is the randomised controlled trial (RCT). There are some variations that are accepted and helpful to the acupuncture cause, but fundamentally the RCT might not be the best fit. This is an epic subject and full of complications and competing views but I will explore this in greater detail in a future post. Hopefully I will be able to include the opinions of more knowledgeable researchers that me.
The way forward
My own opinions are very close to DJ’s – there is an undeniable need for western medicine, but there are gaps. If acupuncture can legitimately help fill those gaps then why wouldn’t we use it in hospitals?
Dr DJ Hamblin-Brown bio
Dr DJ Hamblin-Brown is a Consultant in Emergency Medicine for the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust and has been involved in the field for 12 years. He is also Group Medical Director of Aspen Healthcare, a group of independent hospitals and clinics in the UK. He has recently developed Careful – an app designed to help doctors, nurses and allied health professionals share and protect critical patient information.
In future posts…
This is a historic double first – my first ever blog post on the site and the first of what I hope to be many similar interviews in an ongoing series of videos that I’m calling “acupuncture conversations”.
I hope to interview as many healthcare professionals, researchers and interesting and interested people to try to understand acupuncture from as many angles as possible. I’ve never been one for accepting anything without question, so I’ll be asking questions of everyone I can persuade to sit still for long enough for me to interview them.