Massage therapists play an important and growing role in Minnesota health care.

They are employed by medical centers and hospitals, cancer treatment facilities and rehabilitation programs. They are partners on integrative health care teams. In practices big and small, they offer nondrug pain-relief options that are critically needed as we see the opioid abuse epidemic sweeping across our state and country.

This spring, a proposal in the Legislature would establish a process to certify that registered massage therapists and other bodywork professionals have been vetted and are bound to an enforceable standard of conduct. The measure would establish voluntary registration along with a criminal background check, providing prospective clients with peace of mind and also helping in the fight against human trafficking in Minnesota.

These requirements are overdue in our state. Background checks are standard for licensing or registration of massage therapists in 45 other states. Regrettably, Minnesota has fallen behind all of our neighbors in the Upper Midwest when it comes to this basic public safety protection.

The measures being considered in the Legislature would have the additional benefit of standardizing regulation in our state. Currently, Minnesota leaves it to each city or county to decide how — or whether — to regulate massage therapists. This results in wide variety of standards, business requirements and licensing fees, creating a barrier for massage businesses operating in multiple locations — and a guessing game for patients trying to choose a quality provider.

The efforts in the Legislature were regrettably mischaracterized in a recent story in the Star Tribune (“State considers expanding list of jobs that require a license,” April 25). At Northwestern Health Sciences University in Bloomington, we educate and train the next generation of health care professionals, including massage therapists. Contrary to statements in the story about more extensive regulatory proposals and possible motives for them, we support this effort for voluntary registration and background checks based solely on our conviction that transparency and public safety are essential to elevating patient care and the massage therapy profession.

Many massage therapists and bodywork providers operate independent practices that meaningfully contribute to the health and economy of communities across our state. Establishing a process to delineate the legitimacy of these providers acknowledges their value and promotes growth within the profession.

We champion rigorous educational standards, sound ethics and trustworthy technical expertise. These principles should shape the standard of care that Minnesota patients expect from massage therapists and bodywork providers, just as they do for other licensed and regulated health care professionals in Minnesota and elsewhere.

 

Michele Maiers is a chiropractor, a professor and the director of the Center for Healthcare Innovation and Policy at Northwestern Health Sciences University in Bloomington.