Is Traditional Chinese Medicine Use Associated with Worse Patient-reported Outcomes among Chinese American Rheumatology Patients?

J Rheumatol. 2019 Dec;46(12):1634-1639. doi: 10.3899/jrheum.181148. Epub 2019 May 1.


Objective: Chinese Americans are a fast-growing immigrant group with more severe rheumatic disease manifestations than whites and often a strong cultural preference for traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). We aimed to examine TCM use patterns and association with patient-reported outcomes (PRO) among Chinese American rheumatology patients.

Methods: Chinese Americans actively treated for systemic rheumatic diseases were recruited from urban Chinatown rheumatology clinics. Data on sociodemographics, acculturation, clinical factors, and TCM use (11 modalities) were gathered. Self-reported health status was assessed using Patient Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System (PROMIS) short forms. TCM users and nonusers were compared. Factors independently associated with TCM use were identified using multivariable logistic regression.

Results: Among 230 participants, median age was 57 years (range 20-97), 65% were women, 71% had ≤ high school education, 70% were on Medicaid insurance, 47% lived in the United States for ≥ 20 years, and 22% spoke English fluently. Half used TCM in the past year; these participants had worse self-reported anxiety, depression, fatigue, and ability to participate in social roles and activities compared with nonusers. In multivariable analysis, TCM use was associated with belief in TCM, female sex, ≥ 20 years of US residency, reporting Western medicine as ineffective, and shorter rheumatic disease duration.

Conclusion: Among these Chinese American rheumatology patients, TCM users had worse PRO in many physical and mental health domains. TCM use may be a proxy for unmet therapeutic needs. Asking about TCM use could help providers identify patients with suboptimal health-related quality of life who may benefit from targeted interventions.


Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acculturation*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anxiety / complications
  • Asian Americans
  • Depression / complications
  • Fatigue / complications
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medicine, Chinese Traditional / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Reported Outcome Measures
  • Rheumatic Diseases / complications
  • Rheumatic Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Rheumatic Diseases / psychology
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Participation*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult