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Soc Sci Med. 2011 Jan;72(2):247-55. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.10.021. Epub 2010 Nov 18.

Referral to and attitude towards traditional Chinese medicine amongst western medical doctors in postcolonial Hong Kong.

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School of Public Health and Primary Care, Chinese University of Hong Kong, China.


Recognizing the international trend for patients to choose both allopathic western medicine (WM) and traditional, complementary and alternative medicine (TCAM), the World Health Organization has called for stronger collaboration between WM doctors (WMD) and TCAM practitioners. This resonates with the situation in Hong Kong where the dominant modality of patient care is primarily based on WM practice while traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is often used as a complement. The roots of this utilization pattern lie in colonial history when TCM was marginalised during the British administration. However since 1997 when China regained sovereignty, policies to regulate and professionalize TCM practices have been formally introduced. Despite both its popularity and this policy shift, progress on implementing collaboration between WM and TCM clinicians has been slow. This study, the first since 1997, explores current attitudes and referral behaviours of WMD towards use of TCM. We hypothesised that WMD would have positive attitudes towards TCM, due to regulation and cultural affinity, but that few actual TCM referrals would be made given the lack of a formal collaboration policy between elements within the healthcare system. Our results support these hypotheses, and this pattern possibly rooted from structural inhibitions originating from the historical dominance of WM and failure of services to respond to espoused policy. These have shaped Hong Kong's TCAM policy process to be closer with situations in the West, and have clearly differentiated it from integration experiences in other East Asian health systems where recent colonial history is absent. In addition, our results revealed that self use and formal education of TCM, rather than use of evidence in decision making, played a stronger role in determining referral. This implies that effective TCAM policies within WM dominated health systems like Hong Kong would require structural and educational solutions that foster both increased understanding and safe referrals.

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