The Integration of Chinese Medicine Into Mainstream Medicine

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The integration of Chinese Medicine into mainstream healthcare can only be achieved if the philosophy and practice of biomedicine are accepted by all practitioners alike.

Western Medicine (WM) and Chinese Medicine (CM) are the two most extensively used medical systems throughout the world today, the two systems were integrated successfully throughout China in 1949 when Chairman Mao developed the Chinese health care system into one more adequate for the population of China. Chairman Mao is quoted to have said ‘Although we should have an all-round and correct understanding of Chinese medicine, Chinese medicine also has to transform itself. We must accept this slice of our old heritage critically. To look down upon Chinese medicine is not correct. To claim that everything about Chinese medicine is good, or too good, this is also not correct. Chinese and Western medicines must unite.’ (Taylor, 2004) To date, across China, 95% of WM hospitals have a CM department (Robinson, 2006, p132).

In order to discuss the proposition that the integration of CM into mainstream healthcare can only be achieved if the philosophy and practice of biomedicine are accepted by all practitioners, it will be necessary to review what CM is how it was introduced to the United Kingdom (UK) and to define what the philosophies and practices of CM and WM are. CM in the UK is thought of as a complementary medicine which is defined by Ernst (1995) in a letter to the British Journal of General Practice as ‘...diagnosis, treatment and/or prevention which complements mainstream medicine by contributing to a common whole, by satisfying a demand not met by orthodoxy or by diversifying the conceptual frameworks of medicine’ (Ernst, 1995, p506)

CM was introduced to the UK with the arrival of thousands of Chinese immigrants during the 60s and 70s but grew in popularity in 1971 when the international media reported that President Nixon, who was visiting China, received acupuncture following an emergency appendectomy. After receiving acupuncture for post-operative pain Nixon was so awed by the results that he wrote about his travelling companion James Reston, a New York Times journalist wrote about the experience and piqued the interest of the public who began to investigate this ‘new’ healing art. (Presnsky, 1971) However, CM is nothing new and is steeped in history which can be traced back almost to three thousand years through the publication of the ‘Huang Di Ni Jing’ which translates to the ‘Yellow Emperors Medicine Classic’. It is comprised of two volumes containing the foundation of CM and the way it is used in diagnosis and treatment. The Yellow Emperors volumes are comparable to Hippocrates’s ‘Corpus’, a collection of around sixty books, which were published circa the same era and are still the standard text books for medical students studying WM today.

The philosophy and practice of CM is almost at the opposite end of the spectrum when compared to WM, with CM using logical diagnosis through clinical observation of the patient and emphasizing the part the body must play in treatment by studying the individual as a whole and CM works to maintain good health through balancing the body as one entity rather than a collection of internal organs, muscles and bones. WM tends to use a reductive and analytical method of treatment and is standardized meaning that it will isolate a problem then treat the symptoms of the problem through the use of medicines and pharmacology which has a scientific evidence base. This form of treatment will be diagnosed for every patient displaying similar symptoms regardless of other factors which a CM practitioner may see as significant.

CM consists of several therapies such as Moxbisution, the use of a burning herb known as common mugwort to act as a counterirritant and to heat areas of the skin, acupuncture, Chinese herbs and nutrition, a system of massage across the entire body which includes the application of...
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