Acupuncture Continuing Education

Acupuncture and the Law

Acupuncturist Legal Responsibilities

Acupuncture practice legal responsibilities are covered in today's blog. 

The legal responsibilities of a licensed acupuncturist are very important to remember when trying to run a successful acupuncture practice. Certain basic guidelines can be followed to avoid unexpected bumps in the road. At HealthCMi, we offer acupuncture courses online that explore a greater understanding of the safety, ethics and legal responsibilities inherent in an acupuncture practice. Some of the acupuncture PDA (Professional Development Activity) and acupuncture CEU online courses detail the specifics of what is needed to maintain compliance with state and federal guidelines. In addition, the acupuncture continuing education courses present the basics of preventing unwanted legal issues. In the following sections, let’s take a quick look at some of the administrative issues facing an acupuncturist in private practice.

It is important to understand that the legal relationship between an acupuncturist and patient is contractual and voluntary. The acupuncturist can determine whom he or she will enter into an agreement with to provide care. Once an agreement has been established, the acupuncturist also has a legal duty to act with the due care and skill of a responsible healthcare provider in similar circumstances.

With respect to duty of care, all practitioners are subject to both criminal and civil law; however, few practitioners are charged with criminal intent. Most medical-related legal cases involve civil suits, and most of these claims are for trespassing or negligence.

A practitioner might be held liable for trespassing for any of the following:

Touching the patient without any prior consent
Failing to provide an explanation of the treatment
Misrepresenting or making fraudulent claims to the patient about treatments
Going beyond what the patient has consented or agreed to


Negligence claims are more common in the acupuncture setting and are more likely to result in error than trespassing claims. Negligent acts are those mistakes a practitioner makes outside the standard expected of a reasonable practitioner under similar circumstances. All mistakes are not necessarily negligent. Moreover, negligent acts involve unintended mistakes while criminal acts involve intent.

In a negligent claim, the burden of proof lies with the patient to prove the:

Practitioner owed the patient a duty of care
Practitioner breached the duty
Breach of duty caused the patient harm

Practitioners can be held negligent by either commission or omission. Omission means failing to act in a circumstance when a reasonable practitioner would have acted. For instance, the practitioner in the story at the beginning of this course could have been held liable for failing to act. In the acupuncture setting, it may be easier for a patient to prove a case of negligence by omission rather than commission. For this reason, it is essential for acupuncturists to be diligent in making referrals when circumstances require such action.

An essential point to remember is that the acupuncturist should stay up-to-date and comply with clinical practice guidelines as outlined by the National Acupuncture Foundation, the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, the State Medical Boards, and other authorities in the field. Many medical mistakes occur when practitioners are unaware of the standards of care or become forgetful and negligent to apply standard guidelines. Compliance with guidelines is not just a legal duty it is also an ethical duty to patients.

Malpractice and liability

Malpractice claims against acupuncturist are significantly lower than for other healthcare providers. A 1998 report indicated alternative medicine malpractice accounted for 5% of total medical malpractice claims in the US. This number includes all forms of complementary and alternative medicine not just acupuncture. In the event a malpractice claim is made against an acupuncturist, the patient again bears the burden of proof and must prove malpractice by the acupuncturist. Malpractice is the improper or negligent treatment of a patient, which causes loss, harm or injury. Maleficence means to act with harmful intent.

copyright 2013 Healthcare Medicine Institute

Acupuncture Continuing Education Credits