From foot doctors to acupuncturists to massage therapists, health care treatments tend to be solitary affairs, with one practitioner treating one patient in one small room.
Eagle Point resident Lori Dutton wanted a different experience when she decided to quit smoking. She settled on acupuncture treatments while sharing a large room with other patients.
"There are other bodies going through the same thing. It's comforting," says Dutton. "One man was even snoring. It's quiet and peaceful."
Dutton leans back in an overstuffed recliner, covered by a blanket, listening to soft sitar music. Broadleaf plants and other recliners line the perimeter of the converted living room at Rose Acupuncture in Medford. A Tibetan prayer flag hangs from the ceiling.
Dutton is among a growing number of local people who are embracing a new, nationwide trend that is common in China: group acupuncture. This health care model leads to lower costs for a larger number of people.
"The price of acupuncture can be $75 to $100 per session," says Brian Rosenthal, who holds a doctorate degree from Oregon College of Oriental Medicine and owns Rose Acupuncture. "That puts it out of the range of the common man. I charge $25 to $50, on a sliding scale, according to what each person can afford."
Rosenthal used to practice the "one-on-one" model of acupuncture until he visited the Working Class Acupuncture clinic in Portland.
"They had three practitioners in a room with 30 chairs," says Rosenthal. "They treat 500 people per week."
Although not all types of medical therapies are suitable to the group model, acupuncture is tailor-made for this approach.
"It takes three to five minutes to treat someone — to put in the needles — then I'm just waiting for the body to do the work," explains Rosenthal.
Acupuncture achieves its success by removing energy blockages and re-establishing the flow of chi along a series of energy meridians in the body. The longer the needles stay in the body, in general, the more effective the treatments. The system has been practiced in China for thousands of years.
One downside to group acupuncture for Rosenthal's patients with health insurance is that they must pay up front and seek reimbursement directly from their insurance companies.
"I don't deal with insurance companies," says Rosenthal. "It's how I can afford to charge such low prices."
"One can't argue with the costs," says Ashland resident James Stiritz. "With group acupuncture, it's a good one-quarter to one-third less for me."
Stiritz is a frequent client of People's Choice Acupuncture, an Ashland clinic that has embraced the group model. Stiritz says he has found acupuncture to be an effective preventive treatment.
"This is my way of staying healthy," says Stiritz. "It's proactive medicine instead of waiting for sickness to set in. This is so unique. I can't think of another healing modality where we heal together."
Stiritz says the loss of privacy presents no barrier.
"We tend to see a doctor alone," says Stiritz. "It's soothing rather than intimidating being here together. It's comforting to be among others."
People's Choice is run by the husband-and-wife team of Chad and Leslie Moyer.
"I had to be sold on it (the group model)," says Leslie Moyer. "How could I treat that many people at once? I like it better now. I'm in the room most of the time, so if a patient needs help, I'm right there."
The leisurely feeling that comes in a group setting is cathartic in other ways, she says.
"I enjoy the feeling of many people resting, meditating, contributing to the group feeling," says Moyer.
"In this culture, we don't do things together where we just hang out," she says. "There are not many opportunities to just be together in a space, especially without a cell phone."
At People's Choice, the busiest time is 5 p.m. weekdays, meaning it serves as a place to relax at the end of a stressful day's work. Since moving to the group model, says Moyer, she has noticed a change in the demographics of her clientele.
"We get a much broader range. It used to be 35 to 45 years old, female," she says. "Now we have ages ranging from 9 to 95 "… It's a nice thing to share together as a family."
She's even had three generations come in together for treatments. Men now make up a larger percentage of her clientele.
In this group setting, a patient can stay as long as necessary. This approach stands in contrast to the assembly-line feeling at many doctor's offices, where insurance-company regulations pressure physicians to process patients as quickly as possible.
"They're here 20 minutes to an hour. When they're ready, they'll open their eyes," says Chad Moyer. "I'll check in with people periodically while the needles do their work."
Group acupuncture can create an environment that Moyer likens to a religious setting.
"The Quakers have their silent meetings — there's a nourishing silence in the room," says Moyer. "They go inside ... being together in a healing, quiet place."