With the worldwide spread of acupuncture as a therapeutic modality and the rapid development of acupuncture clinical research, the number of acupuncture randomized controlled trial (RCT) studies is steadily increasing in China and around the world.
However, the results of these studies seem to come from two different worlds indeed. Chinese RCT studies overwhelmingly demonstrate positive outcomes from acupuncture, whereas Western-based studies generally conclude that there is no discernible difference between acupuncture and a placebo. Why should there be such different outcomes when the same scientific method is being used?
This paper analyzes factors that may be contributing to the different outcomes between China-based and Western-based RCT studies by considering and comparing starting points, purpose, study design, investigators, acupuncture treatment regimen, methodological quality, results, conclusions, and deficiencies in acupuncture RCT.
Based on these comparisons, this paper examines the value of acupuncture RCT in general, and the methodological confusion which seems to have propagated from study to study. We propose the following suggestions to remediate the acupuncture clinical research paradigm:
First, acupuncture clinical researches should be carried out step-by-step according to universal, agreed-upon research protocols. Second, norms for reporting outcome metrics need to be standardized for each stage of a study.