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Use of traditional medicine appears ubiquitous among Chinese immigrants.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Nearly all Chinese immigrants living in San Francisco have used at least one form of traditional Chinese medicine in the past 12 months, Amy Wu and Dr. Samuel LeBaron reported in a poster session at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Self-medication with herbs was the most frequent form of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) used. It was used by 93% of the 198 patients who were surveyed within the past 12 months. Overall, 68% reported self-medication with topical preparations, 33% reported use of herbal medications prescribed by a TCM doctor, and 7% reported use of topicals prescribed by a TCM doctor.

Also, 14% of the patients reported using acupuncture, 12% massage therapy, 11% tai chi, 7% qigong, and 5% other modalities.

In a parallel study, Ms. Wu (who is a third-year medical student) and family physician Dr. LeBaron of Stanford (Calif.) University found that the physicians serving those patients frequently failed to inquire about their use of traditional Chinese medicine. Of the 17 physicians surveyed, 24% said they asked about TCM rarely, 58% sometimes, and 18% usually.

Ms. Wu and Dr. LeBaron advised all physicians to routinely ask all patients about use of TCM. They also recommended that medical education incorporate a basic introduction to complementary and alternative medicine, emphasizing common treatments and those associated with adverse effects.

Since conducting this study, "I find that I'm asking all my Chinese patients now about their use of TCM, which I had not done before," Dr. LeBaron said in an interview with this newspaper. "And I find that easily more than half of them say yes; they've already been using it for whatever ailment brought them in."

"I think most family physicians are open [to TCM]," Dr. LeBaron continued. "It's just that most family physicians don't stop to think about recommending it. And also I think most family physicians are not knowledgeable enough about TCM to know what would likely be helpful."

Dr. LeBaron has gone so far as to recommend acupuncture to a patient with nonspecific wrist pain. The patient had already had good success with acupuncture for elbow pain. She returned a month later with her wrist pain resolved after having acupuncture treatments.

He acknowledged that there are some patients for whom he would exercise caution in using traditional Chinese medicine, especially herbal medicine. Such patients include those with renal or liver disease, patients on multiple medications, or those on medications with many known interactions, such as coumadin.

He described a patient being treated by an oncologist for prostate cancer, and who was also being treated by a TCM doctor with acupuncture and herbal medicine.

"In that case I actually brought the list of medications to the TCM doctor--who is well trained in Western medicine--and vice versa, I took the list of herbal preparations to the oncologist, so both of them could see what was going on and make comparisons," he said. "I also consulted with a pharmacist. So there's a lot of double checking that we should do."

"We have to put it in perspective too and realize that most likely with our Western medical treatments we're causing far more complications than our patients are getting from TCM. So while we should be cautious about it, we probably should be focusing the majority of our attention on the very Western drugs that we ourselves are using," Dr. LeBaron said.


San Francisco Bureau
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Title Annotation:care and treatment; drug use
Author:Finn, Robert
Publication:Clinical Psychiatry News
Article Type:Statistical data
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Apr 1, 2006
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