Dear Accident Compensation Corporation,
In response to an Official Information Act request from Kevin McCready in June (https://fyi.org.nz/request/1749-continue…), Mrs Koleti Vae’au wrote that:
In 2011, ACC’s research team conducted a literature review of the efficacy of acupuncture in the management of musculoskeletal pain. It found the most convincing evidence for the effectiveness of acupuncture related to the treatment of chronic neck pain and the improvement of pain and mobility in chronic shoulder pain. In terms of other injuries, evidence of the benefits of acupuncture was either inconclusive or insufficient.
I have been unable to find this particular review by searching on the ACC website, although I have found other reports such as the “Effectiveness of acupuncture in selected mental health conditions” brief report from earlier this year.
Also, if ACC has any guidelines for carrying out these reviews, could you please provide me with a copy of or link to these guidelines.
Here’s a (direct PDF download) link to the mental health review that I mentioned in my request: Effectiveness of acupuncture in selected mental health conditions – Brief report 
The brief conclusion of this report is:
There is limited good quality evidence to conclusively determine acupuncture’s efficacy in treatment of mental health conditions such as Major Depressive Disorder, Dysthymia, Anxiety Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
As I mentioned in my last post on this topic, ACC released their review of the evidence for acupuncture in the management of musculoskeletal pain in response to another OIA request. That review can be read in full here: The efficacy of acupuncture in the management of musculoskeletal pain
Here’s what ACC said in response to my OIA request yesterday:
There are only two ACC literature reviews on the efficacy of acupuncture. These are:
The efficacy of acupuncture in the management of musculoskeletal pain.
I understand from your email of 25 August 2014 that you have accessed a copy of this report and therefore do not require another copy.
Effectiveness of acupuncture in selected mental health conditions — Brief report 2014.
As you have identified, this is available on the ACC website.
In regard to ACC guidelines on literature reviews, ACC follows standard practice when undertaking literature reviews, and there are no ACC specific guidelines on this practice.
After my previous post on this topic, I was contacted by Ross Mason who told me about a similar OIA request he had made some years ago. One interesting thing I read in their response to him, which was written by the same person as their response to me, was this (bolded emphasis mine):
2. Evidence of the efficacy of the use of CAM treatments/programmes;
Schedule 1 Part 1 sections 1 & 2 of the [Accident Compensation] Act detail ACC’s liability to pay for the cost of treatment. These provisions in part include the requirement that the treatment is necessary and appropriate and of the quality required for the purpose. ACC has always required that new treatments for which payment is requested are supported by evidence of effectiveness. However it must be noted that there are many treatments that treatment providers utilise that do now have a well established evidence base.
Examples of the research that ACC does in considering new treatments can be found on the “For Providers” section of the ACC website – http://www.acc.co.nz/about-acc/research-sponsorship-and-projects/research-and-development/evidence-based-healthcare-reports/index.htm
If requested to fund CAM, ACC would require that evidence be provided for the treatments [sic] efficacy. ACC evaluation process of the evidence is detailed on the ACC website in the “For Providers, Clinical Best Practice” section – http://www.acc.co.nz/for-providers/clinical-best-practice/index.htm.
The first link, to the “Evidence based healthcare reports” page, seems to provide a little more detail on what was described as “standard practice” in response to my request:
Evidence based reviews
These reports assess the effectiveness and safety of health interventions. They are developed according to a robust methodology similar to that used by the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine (external link) and the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (external link). This includes systematic searches of the literature, critical appraisal of existing research evidence and peer review by clinical experts.
ACC has funded acupuncture treatments for over a decade, spending over $24 million on it last year alone.
In August 2011, ACC reviewed the evidence regarding the efficacy of acupuncture for musculoskeletal pain and found that (emphasis mine):
The evidence for the effectiveness of acupuncture is most convincing for the treatment of chronic neck and shoulder pain. In terms of other injuries, the evidence is either inconclusive or insufficient.
In March 2014, ACC published a brief report on the effectiveness of acupuncture in selected mental health conditions didn’t find enough good quality evidence to provide any recommendation.
No other review of the evidence for acupuncture has been undertaken by ACC. Despite this, over the last year ACC spent significant amounts of public money on acupuncture treatments for other medical issues such as burns ($30,002), lacerations and puncture wounds ($309,458), and fractures and dislocations ($591,613).
In the past year, they spent $22,592,552 on acupuncture for soft tissue injuries. Unfortunately, their recent response to another OIA request shows that they haven’t been keeping track of which body parts were treated, so we’ve been unable to determine how much of this substantial amount of money was spent on treatments that ACC’s own findings say are not supported by evidence.
As far as I’ve been able to tell, ACC’s funding scheme for acupuncture simply isn’t consistent with the evidential requirements they claim to require, and is instead largely based on the pre-scientific notions (to quote the author of their 2011 review) detailed in their Acupuncture Treatment Profiles document. When these issues were raised with the previous ACC minister Nick Smith in 2009 he promised a review of their effectiveness would be undertaken, but in the 5 years since then no such review has taken place. This latest response of theirs has only made me feel even more strongly about my recommendations for change:
I think ACC needs to review its funding scheme for acupuncture. I think their approach to this should start with reviewing their Acupuncture Treatment Profiles document, ensuring that the only treatments contained within it are those supported by rigorous evidence, and purging pseudoscientific claims from it. If they find they need to undertake further reviews of the evidence for the use of acupuncture for particular indications, then they should do that before approving funding for it.
I think ACC should then only agree to pay for acupuncture treatments that are aligned with their Treatment Profiles document, which they should commit to reviewing at regular intervals to keep it in line with the latest evidence (I’m not sure what time interval would be most appropriate, and I understand that there is a cost involved in that work).
I’m not sure, but it’s possible some changes to legislation may be required before this becomes a reality, but if that’s the case those changes should happen. A government body should not be bound by law to fund healthcare that is not supported by evidence.
There’s one last thing I’d also like to see, although I really feel like this is a long shot. I think ACC should take an active role in discouraging healthcare practice based on the “pre-scientific notions” described in their 2011 review. I think they should do this by distancing themselves from those acupuncturists who promote it and who base their practice on it, by refusing to grant them status as registered ACC practitioners if they are found to rely on it.