Acupuncture, Herbs --- How to Choose by Goals

My patients ask me every time, how to decide a treatment plan, acupuncture or herbs or both. My future patients often ask on the first phone call that what we can treat and how much acupuncture costs. I will try to explain in typical cases with clear answers. Read it with understanding that you and your family's health is a long term maintenance with changing conditions. And my recommendation would very much base on your needs.

1. Why Alternative Medicine?
Number one reason is the patients are getting better care when western medicine don't effectively treat the symptoms, fatigue, anxiety, depression, constipation, IBS, etc. Or the effective treatments will adversely affect later life events, like birth-control pills for irregular or painful menstruation interfere with pregnancy planning.
Secondly, acupuncture has little side effects, good alternative for pain management drugs.
Thirdly, try acupuncture or herbs as non-invasive procedure and promote self healing before surgical solutions or life-long drug dependency.
Then the other reasons beyond medical factors include the care factor, the long term relationship between the patient and the TCM doctor, making connections at multiple layers, manual therapy, life style guidance, filling the gap between standard lab results and your personal predicaments.


2. What's the Real Cost?
One of my friend argues that western medicine cost cheaper than Chinese medicine. Yes, if compare the cost of factory mass produced chemical pills vs wild or cultivated herbs. With pharmacy companies, R& D cost in the picture, different story. While acupuncture clinic averages $100~$200/visit, a typical medical doctor office visit cost $400, labs cost $100-1000s and hospital bill $10-20K/day. People buying from commercial insurance personally not through employers, typical cost is $500/mo with $6000 deductible ( potentially $12K/yr out of pocket without getting paid by insurance). People with no medical insurance really have limited choices as cash patients.
Chinese medicine emphasize preventive medicine, personal medicine. We recommend you spend on quality food, on right training and exercises, on adjustments by therapy through aging. Basically spend more on yourself, less on the medical facility.

3. Pick and Choose, and a Word about Insurance Coverage
First, there is a medical necessity to consider, Acupuncture alone can go so far, adding herbs most often help healing, sometimes even critical.
Secondly, there is patient preference to pick acupuncture and/or herbs. Some patients are afraid of needles especially young children. Some patients like the fact that acupuncture is with minimum side effects. Some patients are too busy to cook herbs and avert to the bitter taste. Some patients don't like pills with side effects and stick with natural medicine.
Thirdly, there is cost difference, acupuncture insurance coverage differs greatly. Herbs are not covered at all. Usually we would need your card to check in network or out of network coverage, how many visits per year, annual deductible etc information.
We would consider the above 3 factors to give you a starting treatment plan, and certainly can adjust as we go.
The following example list is a break down by categories:

Herbs Acupuncture



Menstruation Issue primary supplementary
Fertility primary                  primary   

Chronic Pain



(full body)




Sports Injury or

Acute pain relief

supplementary primary
Digestive System primary supplementary important
Respiratory System major effective supplementary
Cardiovascular primary primary

Stress Management,

Anxiety, Depression

primary primary important

Finally a word about multiple insurance coverage. For couples both work, your employer's insurance is primary, you as dependent is secondary. When you change job, add primary or remove from secondary insurance, please inform us promptly, to avoid filing claims mistakenly.

4. Ideal Care (Past, Future and Now)

When I was a grad student in Oregon in 1996, my body reacted to sudden diet change (too much cafeteria burgers and fries). I constipated for days and finally saw blood in stool on a Sunday. Well, weekend, no class, I headed to the Good Samaritan hospital where my student health insurance card would work. Doctor quickly examined, no big issue, gave me a blood test for HIV, which I didn't remember they explained or asked for consent. Sent me home with no meds, a month later, a bill of $200 for emergency visit. By today's standards, that is prompt service and really really cheap. My dad also had a constipation episode in 2012, almost fainted in an emergency room visit, but waited 6 hours from night to dawn before seen by a doctor. You would respect how great all medical sciences have progressed but, giving a young patient OTC hemorrhoid ointment below $20 is a community clinic should be able to do. Not well utilizing simple care solutions would break the medical system financially, and people suffer from choosing either total self care with pain and uncertainty, to expensive medical facility visits (cost unknown at the time of visit).

The US health professional system definitely take advantage of the acupuncture part of TCM that's safe and sound. It hasn't evolved to most efficiently combine the best of herbal medicine can offer, which is more than 80% TCM clinical activities comparing to acupuncture in China. I personally believe that herbal prescription is an economical better future if well regulated. Certainly Chinese government is steadily working towards that goal to promote TCM in public healthcare system.

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