Battlefield acupuncture (BFA) as a form of pain management in the homeless population

Wednesday, June 1, 2016
Pavilion Ballroom (Hilton Portland)
Holly Berkley, BS (Medical Student, Uniformed Services University)
Tiffany Chang, BS (Medical Student, Uniformed Services University)
Mark Stephens, MD (Professor and Chair, Department of Family Medicine, Uniformed Services University)
Andrea Loejos Lee, MSW (Clinical Social Worker, Bethesda Cares)
Mark Babiak, LBSW (Critical Time Intervention Specialist, Bethesda Cares)
Medical faculty and students from the Uniformed Services University plan to present Battlefield Acupuncture (BFA) as a form of complementary therapy for pain management in the homeless population. It is a noninvasive, easy to perform, clinically helpful, and cost-effective option, particularly for low-resource environments. Semi-permanent needles are placed in five designated auricular locations. BFA has been used increasingly in the military setting as an option for pain control. The use of BFA has not been formally studied in homeless populations. Chronic pain represents a large proportion of medical complaints in this population, where it is often unfeasible to provide pharmaceutical pain management due to the high prevalence of substance abuse and a lack of continuity of care[1]. Under the supervision of a faculty physician, students from the Uniformed Services University have partnered with Bethesda Cares[2] to provide bi-monthly clinics and regular home visits as a two-pronged approach to increase access to care for patients who are either homeless or recently placed in permanent supportive housing. Acupuncture provides immediate treatment of pain, aids in rapport-building with patients, and motivates them to return for future visits where chronic disease management and other health maintenance discussions can occur. These visits also allow other social conversations to occur that support the process of securing permanent housing. To date, we have had good success with the use of BFA. While BFA does not eliminate the pain, patients have consistently reported a decrease in the severity of their pain and regularly return for repeated treatments. BFA has the potential to target a broad population, making it a useful tool for pain management in both traditional and low-resource settings.

[1] Hwang SW, Wilkins E, Chambers C, Estrabillo E, Berends J, MacDonald A. Chronic pain among homeless persons: characteristics, treatment, and barriers to management. BMC Fam Pract. 2011;12:73.

[2] Bethesda Cares is a community outreach program for the homeless in Montgomery County, MD.