Views on traditional Chinese medicine amongst Chinese population: a systematic review of qualitative and quantitative studies

Health Expect. 2014 Oct;17(5):622-36. doi: 10.1111/j.1369-7625.2012.00794.x. Epub 2012 May 31.


Background: Health-care professionals worldwide have started to appreciate patients' perspectives on the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) particularly given its popularity. However, cultural perspectives may vary and it may not be possible to apply research findings on the use of CAM from the west to the east.

Objective: This systematic review aims to synthesize usage patterns of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) amongst Chinese populations in different parts of the world and explore potential geographical variations.

Search strategy: Six international and four Chinese databases were searched, and manual searches of relevant monographs and government publications were carried out.

Inclusion criteria: Quantitative, qualitative or mixed-method research that aimed to investigate Chinese patients' perception of, and perspectives on, TCM was included.

Data extraction and synthesis: For each study included, texts under the headings of 'results' or 'findings' were extracted and subjected to analysis. A thematic synthesis approach was adopted for synthesizing qualitative and quantitative studies.

Main results: Amongst the 28 studies included, twenty were quantitative surveys, six were qualitative studies and two were mixed-method studies. The overall methodological quality was mediocre. Data synthesis suggested that patients from all regions share a common cultural affinity to TCM and consider it to be an effective complement to western medicine (WM) for treating chronic or serious diseases. However, heterogeneous views on (i) disclosing TCM use to WM doctors and (ii) the potential harm of herbs emerged across different study locations.

Discussion and conclusions: Future research should explore how variation in health systems may influence patients' perception of CAM in different countries.

Keywords: attitude to health; complementary therapies; cross cultural comparison; health behavior; medicine; patient-centered care; traditional chinese medicine.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Health* / ethnology
  • China / epidemiology
  • China / ethnology
  • Humans
  • Medicine, Chinese Traditional / psychology*
  • Qualitative Research