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Bridging the Gaps in Healthcare

Dr. Robert Bibeau, Veteran and Doctor of Medicine

Dr. Robert Bibeau, D.O.M. at Mountain Path Acupuncture. A leader in our community, naturally inspires patients like Scott Simon to share their experiences with the healthcare they received. 

“I’m now 71 years old who has been suffering with chronic disorders since I was 32. The results are amazing to say the least. One might ask now why I undertook to tell his story. The textbook definition of a hero is an ordinary person doing extraordinary things. Heroes come in different sizes, genders, and intellect. Some don’t even recognize their own significance of their own acts and the life changing impact they have on others. This narrative is about one such individual as it relates to my life and I will make the assumption to countless others. This heroes’ name is Robert Bibeau, DOM (Doctor of Oriental Medicine) who obtained his medical degree from Southwest Acupuncture College in Santa Fe, New Mexico, after a distinguished career that spanned 14 years in The United States Marine Corps. serving as both a battlefield commander and intelligence officer rising to the rank of Captain. His journey into his now chosen profession of Chinese Medicine initiated when he was severely wounded in the Iraq war in 2008 suffering a severe traumatic brain injury, as well as bilateral peripheral nerve damage caused by an IED explosion to his light armored vehicle. The injury to his brain had caused “my speech patterns and cognitive skills to degrade and my balance was abysmal.”  In excruciating pain, he went through long and arduous bouts of both speech and physical therapy, in the beginning with little comfort or success. He then turned towards Eastern Medicine and through advice and insistence from his combat medical officer, discovered another way to mitigate the pain and angst of the traumas he was forced to live with. In the practice of Kung Fu, he came to recognize both a vision of spiritual and mental healing, through this ancient martial art, which he still practices today as a Kung Fu teacher, and credits this regimen with returning him to some normalcy albeit he still lives with the battle scars of the war with shrapnel still roaming through his body.  But that was not enough. Not discounting Western Medicine, rather integrating it as part of his medical culture he now turned to what he thought would be his next step in the evolution of the healing process. That of acupuncture and herbology, for his singular commitment to himself and to the world was to help others, in whatever way he could, and acupuncture provided that medium. His proficiency in his now chosen profession is reflected by his list of accomplishments. He currently serves as Department Commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Department of New Mexico, and is significantly active in his efforts to advocate for veterans’ health related matters in advancing the acupuncture methodology as a form of treatment, and is a Board member of the Board of Directors of the New Mexico Society for Acupuncture and Asian Medicine.” -Scott Simon 

Jeanette- You are a Marine. Your last days at war however, gave you injuries to take home. On your path to healing, the practice of Kung Fu led you to its highest level of education, Chinese medicine. You chose acupuncture as a way to treat yourself and serve others. How has acupuncture, and the combination of eastern and western medicine, affected other Veterans on their healing journey? 

Dr. Bibeau- Oh that’s a great question. Veterans are demanding access to this care right now. For good reason too, patient outcomes are clearly better on the integration of this medicine when combined with conventional care. I really try hard to stay abreast of recent literature regarding eastern medicine and its use in the conventional care paradigm. Right now, today, there are 40,775 academic articles about just the acupuncture aspect of Chinese Medicine on PubMed, which is the National Institute of Health’s website which catalogs medical journal articles. So the amount of evidence regarding the efficacy of acupuncture is astounding. So this demand that veterans are placing on the use of modalities such as acupuncture really is something to look at. Of course, you have to ask the question, “why?” Why are veterans demanding acupuncture? The answer isn’t really so obvious, but I can tell you there are certain things that we as a population demographic really care a lot about. One thing, is competency of those care providers. Another is the rate at which our Brothers and Sisters are killing themselves. That number you’ve heard about, “22 a day” it’s not hyperbole. That’s the number. “It’s saving lives.” Still, after thousands of years of practice and maybe now it’s saving more lives than ever given it’s increasing focus of study and acceptance by the medical establishment.

Jeanette- Eastern medicine and acupuncture is labeled as alternative although it has been practiced and used for thousands of years. What can you expect from a first visit with you and how do you bridge the gap to eastern medicine for people that haven’t studied this option of care but want to learn more? 

Dr. Bibeau- Yeah, that’s another great question. So I eluded before to how this medicine is moving mainstream in America right now, but it’s definitely still considered fringe by a lot of people. Which is frustrating because it’s like hey man, I can really treat this guys pain or at least reduce it and do so without getting him hooked on these life destroying substances and honestly it is so much cheaper than conventional care. There was this study done in 2007, long before I was even really aware of this medicine, but it was done in Iraq at Al Asad air base during the war. Basically the study was could the use of acupuncture get people with non-combat injuries so like twisted ankles and shoulder strains, things like that, which are super common in combat environments. This study wanted to see if you could get troops back out on the battlefield more quickly and if you could save money doing it. Well there were a lot of troops that opted for the acupuncture over the conventional care model. You know what happened? Turns out, there was just one patient who opted for the conventional care model. The expense to the tax payer of just that episode of care, the x-rays, the stay in the combat service hospital, the NSAIDs that were prescribed, exceeded the entire cost of the study and cost of the care for all of the other patients COMBINED. So here we are like “hey, overburdened healthcare system, there’s a thousands of years old solution if you want it.” It turns out that whether the healthcare system wants it or not, the people do. Did you know, that only about 30% of veterans receive their healthcare through VA? So that means that the rest are on commercial insurance, Medicare and Medicaid or a combination thereof. Which means that anything that happens policy wise which is good for veterans, is good for all Americans really. So I work really hard to provide safe, effective and quality care for anyone who comes through my door, veteran or not.

As far as bridging the gap and what to expect in a treatment with me. I am not so sure we have a medical system in this country so much as we have a transfer of payment system. I think a cure for that is for us to be able to spend more time with our Docs. Like think of the idea of the small-town Doc. You knew that guy if you lived in a town like that. Played baseball with his kids and he sponsored your teams, and he knew your parents and grandparents and not just what was going on with them medically, but what was important to them. I do think that a lot of providers in the conventional care paradigm can still be like that, but it has got to be hard in that environment. Like how much time do you really get with them? It isn’t much. There are studies on this, lots of them. My peers in the conventional care setting, they really are overburdened and it’s unfair to them and to their patients honestly. Standing outside of that care model, and maybe it’s just the stage I am at in my career or the scale of my practice right now, but I am able to really take a lot of time with my patients. And honestly, that whole time I am staying in the treatment room with them, talking with them, getting to know them and letting them get to know me; I am evaluating and diagnosing through the Chinese Medical lens the whole time. I really think it is a reason why I have very good success rates with my patients. I also really take the time to help demystify or pull back the curtain on what Chinese Medicine is saying when we use terms like Qi or Yin and Yang, or diagnostic terms like Liver Blood Deficiency or Heart and Kidney not Communicating. These almost poetic sounding terms which make it sound very folk medicine like and thus unscientific. But when you peel back what these terms mean and the diagnostic criteria behind them you begin to see that it is not at all unscientific and that maybe there’s 150 years or so of poor understanding on our part, that is the Western minds part, of these terms that simply don’t translate as words as well as they translate as ideas. I really enjoy taking time to help patients and even other providers understand what these things mean and why they inform the manner and nature of subsequent treatment. Therein really lies the reasons for the efficacy of Chinese Medicine is its own logic and consistency throughout the model and theory which govern it. I have found though that for a lot of patients who have come to me as a last resort and have been told by their conventional care providers that their condition isn’t known or well understood and they are sort of in this place of despair, learning that there is about a 5,000-year-old term and treatment model for their exact condition seems to be pretty comforting. So it has become pretty common for a patient to come to me for one problem and for us to knock that out over the course of however long it takes us but I discharge them for that and they call me later on to see if I can treat their cold. Which I can.

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