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Implementing an Inpatient Acupuncture Service for Pain and Symptom Management: Identifying Opportunities and Challenges

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Objective: To explore an interprofessional group of health care providers' perspectives on the facilitators and barriers to implementation of an inpatient acupuncture service for pain and symptom management. Design: Qualitative. Setting: An urban, academic, tertiary care health system. Subjects: Key interprofessional health care providers, including physicians, nurses, and administrators. Methods/interventions: We used interviews and focus group with questions guided by the Promoting Action on Research Implementation in Health Services framework to explore three domains of implementation-evidence, context, and facilitation. Data were analyzed using content analysis. Results: Thirty health professionals participated in 11 interviews and 1 focus group. We identified 12 codes or topics, grouped into 3 categories: (1) facilitators to implementation, (2) barriers to implementation, and (3) strategies to promote successful implementation. Health professionals' awareness of acupuncture was high, and the positive support was based on beliefs that acupuncture fills a biomedical gap in treatment and adds institutional value by enhancing the reputation of the health system. Many thought that to provide comprehensive care, acupuncture should be available to inpatients, but opinions varied on the appropriateness and timing of acupuncture in patients' disease or care trajectory. Concerns about inconsistencies in insurance coverage and resulting expenses patients may incur were noted. Strategies to overcome implementation challenges included ensuring buy-in, setting appropriate expectations of the benefits of acupuncture, and educating patients and providers. Conclusions: Our study finds clear support for acupuncture. These strong endorsements were the foundation of facilitating factors that can guide implementation of acupuncture in the inpatient setting. Although we also identified potential barriers to implementation that must be addressed, we also report a number of actionable steps to operationalize evidence-based acupuncture to patients who are inpatients.

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