Use of traditional medicine by immigrant Chinese patients

Fam Med. 2007 Mar;39(3):195-200.


Background: Chinese immigrants constitute the largest group of foreign-born Asians living in the United States. Knowledge of their use of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is limited. A survey was conducted to determine their TCM use and to evaluate physician awareness of these practices.

Methods: Structured interviews were conducted with 198 Chinese immigrant patients, and a survey was administered to 17 physicians in two federally funded community health clinics.

Results: Nearly 100% of the patients had used TCM during the previous year, mostly for musculoskeletal or abdominal pain, fatigue, and health maintenance. Self-medication with herbal products was the most common (93% at least once, 43% weekly). A smaller number (23%) had used herbs prescribed by a TCM provider. Use of acupuncture was less common (14%), although higher than the national average. Most patients indicated a preference to consult Western physicians for acute infections. Only 5% reported that their physicians had ever asked about their use of TCM. By contrast, 77% of physicians reported that they "usually or sometimes" asked about TCM use.

Conclusions: Results suggest that these patients used TCM, primarily self-prescribed over-the-counter herbal preparations, for many health problems. Information about use was not shared with their physicians, nor did patients perceive their doctors as soliciting sufficient information on TCM use. Physician education in this area may be warranted.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Asian*
  • California
  • Clinical Competence
  • Communication
  • Emigration and Immigration*
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medicine, Chinese Traditional / statistics & numerical data*
  • Middle Aged
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Self Medication / statistics & numerical data*