Letters to the Editor  |   July 2006
Worlds of Western Medicine and Chinese Medicine Learning From Each Other
Author Affiliations
    University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey–School of Osteopathic Medicine Stratford, NJ
Article Information
Neuromusculoskeletal Disorders / Arthritis
Letters to the Editor   |   July 2006
Worlds of Western Medicine and Chinese Medicine Learning From Each Other
The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, July 2006, Vol. 106, 427-428. doi:
The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, July 2006, Vol. 106, 427-428. doi:
To the Editor: During a rare break from medical school, I traveled to Beijing, China. Dr Jia Li Qun, chairman of oncology at the China–Japan Friendship Hospital in the center of Beijing, organized a week-long program for me to shadow several Chinese physicians in various settings, including the hospital, an outpatient setting, and an acupuncture clinic. The 400-bed teaching hospital uniquely integrates Western medicine disciplines with the tenets of Eastern medicine. In the United States, Eastern medicine, or Chinese medicine, is often regarded as alternative medicine, but in China, it is believed to be just as effective as Western medicine. 
During my week's stay, I observed that Chinese medicine emphasizes the body's innate ability to heal itself. Much like osteopathic medicine, physicians trained in Eastern medicine emphasize that a pathologic lesion in one region of the body can manifest itself in another part of the body, such as the tongue or the radial pulse. For example, all inpatients and outpatients who are seen on the oncology service in the China–Japan Friendship Hospital are asked to stick out their tongue for the physician to inspect. According to the belief of Chinese medicine, its practitioners can see how efficiently and properly the body is working based on the color and texture of the patient's tongue. 
After observing the patient's tongue, the physician trained in Chinese medicine palpates the radial pulse to gain additional information in identifying the culprit. As Dr Jia instructed me, the proper way in Eastern medicine to palpate the radial pulse is to use three fingers. The rationale is that underneath each finger, the physician can deduce an indication of the well-being and efficiency of a specific organ. For example, the three left digits consist of the liver, heart, and kidney from distal to proximal with the proper palpating position. The right hand represents the spleen, lung, and kidney in the same fashion as the left. 
Eastern and Western medicine practitioners would agree that Western interventions and medications such as chemotherapeutic agents and morphine are essential in treating oncology patients for various types of cancers and associated pain. However, Dr Jia and his colleagues believe that there is an advantage in combining the two disciplines. I often observed Dr Jia prescribing herbal medications rather than an opioid as first-line analgesics. 
My initial goal of spending a week with Dr Jia was to gain an appreciation and broaden my view of the differences between osteopathic healthcare and healthcare in China. I ended up not only appreciating the differences, but perhaps more important, also appreciating the similarities of the two disciplines. Although many of its practical standards are not state-of-the-art as in the United States, physicians at the China–Japan Friendship Hospital holistically care for each patient. Such care may grant each patient a chance for an expedited healing process. Perhaps one day, Chinese medicine will be a routine part of Western medicine. In the meantime, both worlds of medicine can continue to learn from each other.