The Role of Traditional Chinese Medicine

TCM or Western Medicine?

TCM PharmacyWhile a number of hospitals in China concentrate either on Western medicine or Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), but do not take both approaches to treat their patients, the Shanghai East Hospital specifies on Western Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) alike and is as such using TCM to aid the treatments of Western medicine and vice versa.
Some wards are using mainly TCM, others use mainly Western medicine. Going through the patients documents, it becomes clear that medications of either medical theory are present alongside and that both treatment approaches are used to aid each other in order to formulate the best treatment for each individual patient.
The approach of TCM and western medicine to complete each other seems to be a very successful approach and is - up to today - a practically unknown approach outside of Asia.

What is TCM?

TCM has been practiced for over 2000 years to treat the entire range of human health conditions. While the western view of TCM is often connecting it to metaphysical 'energetic' medicine, the actual eastern TCM has little to do with that. The diagnostics in TCM are fundamentally different from those of western medicine and consists of the close inspection of the pulse, tung and skin of the patients, as well as their behaviour for examples. Rather than individual symptoms, it treats mainly 'syndromes'. TCM consists of five treatment branches and is mainly geared towards prevention of diseases. Roughly, the five approaches consist of 1) Qui-Gong, Exercise, Realxation, etc. 2) Food therapy 3) Tuina, Manual Therapy 4) Acupuncture and Moxibustion and 5) Herbal Medicine. In treating patients, the least invasive techniques are preferred over more invasive techniques - meaning that massaging will be prescribed more often as compared to acupuncture - or even the most invasive treatment, which is the actual ingestion of medication.

While the focus is on prevention rather than healing, it can be surprising that TCM treatments show an even better outcome in many circumstances as compared to western medicine. Examples include the healing of fractures in which the fractured limbs are splinted only and no casts are used. The skin and fracture are treated daily with creams and essences that aid the circulation of blood. While healing times are comparable, the long-term effects, such as chronic pain at the once fractured site are much less common when compared to the western treatment with a cast and complete immobilization for several weeks. Another example can be seen when looking at the SARS-outbreaks in China in the past - a quite acute desease with a very high mortality. Observing the outcome of patients admitted to Western only medicine, mixed hospitals and TCM only hospitals, it has been found that the lowest death toll has been achieved in TCM only hospitals.

TCM Education

The education in TCM is generally speaking a life-long learning and education is taking a comparable time - if not longer - as compared to western medicine. The first step is a study at one of the many TCM universities throughout China, followed by the more advanced education by a tutor or master and the study of ancient Chinese texts. Most experts agree, that an acceptable level of expertice can only be reached if one can not only memorize thousands of pages, but also learns to read the ancient Chinese scriptures to get to information first hand. There are an excess of 10,000 herbal substances alone to be studied and known to the TCM practitioner.