Objective To evaluate the content of patient information leaflets about acupuncture.
Methods 401 patient information leaflets were obtained from practising UK acupuncturists and subjected to content and thematic analysis.
Results 59% of included leaflets were from NHS physiotherapists. Almost all the leaflets defined acupuncture and the majority explained how it might work, described the treatment process and placed it in a historical context. Most described possible benefits and risks of acupuncture and discussed contraindications and safety. Just under a third of leaflets (120, 30%) suggested conditions that might be helped by acupuncture, most commonly musculoskeletal pain, arthritis and injuries. By emphasising differences between individuals in acupuncture treatments and responsiveness, the leaflets fostered hope for positive effects without making any guarantees.
Conclusions Information leaflets are broadly consistent with the evidence for acupuncture, but some claims are inconsistent with official advice from advertising regulators. An ethically sound, scientifically grounded and psychologically effective leaflet should accurately convey both benefits and risks of treatment, optimise patients’ expectations and allay concerns about needling. This study suggests that acupuncture leaflets might achieve these multiple functions but care should be taken to ensure adequate coverage of risks.
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