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J Altern Complement Med. 2009 Jul;15(7):727-34. doi: 10.1089/acm.2008.0554.

Understanding the reliability of diagnostic variables in a Chinese Medicine examination.

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  • 1Monash University Department of Medicine, Alfred Hospital, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.


The question of the objectivity of the clinical examination has been raised in relation to Western and non-Western medical systems. Western practitioners are often skeptical about Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), on the basis that its diagnostic variables and subcategories of disease appear subjective and not repeatable. We conducted a study investigating the reproducibility of individual diagnostic observations within three of the four diagnostic methods used in a TCM examination: inspection, palpation, and auscultation. Three TCM practitioners participated in the study, and examined 45 adults who had mild-to-moderate hypercholesterolemia but were otherwise healthy. Results indicated that while there are certain features of the TCM system that are highly objective and repeatable, such as detection of the presence of shen, character of breath sounds, and pulse speed, there are other features that are subjective and unreliable, such as color under the eyes and tongue body color. This poses a challenge for TCM practitioners to improve their clinical practice and demonstrates to Western medical practitioners that TCM does in part rest on a rigorous and objective empirical basis.

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