The variability of TCM pattern diagnosis and herbal prescription on rheumatoid arthritis patients

Altern Ther Health Med. Jan-Feb 2004;10(1):58-63.


Context: The consistency of diagnosis made among Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners and the relationship between TCM diagnosis and Chinese herbal prescription have not been adequately examined.

Objective: To investigate the degree of consistency with which TCM diagnoses and herbal prescriptions can be made by practitioners examining rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients. To survey TCM diagnostic patterns and to examine the correlation between herbal prescriptions and these diagnoses for a sample of RA patients.

Design: A prospective survey.

Setting: General Clinical Research Center, University of Maryland Hospital System, Baltimore, MD.

Patients: Rheumatoid arthritis patients. PRACTITIONERS: Licensed acupuncturists with a minimum of 5 years licensure and education in Chinese herbs.

Methods: Three TCM practitioners examined the same 39 RA patients separately, following the traditional "Four Diagnostic Methods." Patients filled out a questionnaire to serve as the data for the "Inquiry" component. They then underwent a physical examination, including the tongue and pulse, conducted by each of the practitioners. Based upon the examination results, each practitioner provided both a TCM diagnosis and a herbal prescription. These diagnoses/prescriptions were then examined with respect to the rate of agreement among the 3 practitioners.

Results: The average agreement with respect to the TCM diagnoses among the 3 pairs of TCM practitioners was 28.2% (25.6 to 33.3% with kappas ranging from 0.23 to 0.30). The degree to which the herbal prescriptions agreed with textbook recommended practice of each TCM diagnosis was 93.2% (range = 87.2 to 100%).

Conclusion: The total agreement on TCM diagnosis on RA patients among 3 TCM practitioners was low. When less stringent, but theoretically justifiable, criteria were employed, greater consensus was obtained among the 3 practitioners. The correspondence between the TCM diagnosis and the herbal formula prescribed for that diagnosis was high, although there was little agreement among the 3 practitioners with respect to the herbal formulas prescribed for individual patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / diagnosis*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / therapy*
  • Clinical Competence*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Maryland
  • Medicine, Chinese Traditional / statistics & numerical data*
  • Middle Aged
  • Physical Examination / standards
  • Pilot Projects
  • Prospective Studies
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Research Design


  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal