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How traditional Chinese medicine and Western medicine could be combined in Hong Kong hospitals
author:Sylvia Masource:TheSouthChinaMorningPost 2024-06-03 [Medicine]
Hong Kong is keen to integrate traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) into its healthcare system, although regulatory barriers and the need for clinical research remain challenges, according to TCM experts from Hong Kong and mainland China.
  • .As traditional Chinese medicine gains recognition around the world, Hong Kong is taking steps to integrate it into its healthcare system beyond just acupuncture
  • .The city’s first Chinese medicine hospital will open in 2025 and more young people are studying TCM, but clinical research is needed and regulations must be met



At the Asia Summit on Global Health, held in Hong Kong earlier this month, educators, researchers and medical practitioners discussed TCM’s role in contemporary medical treatment.

TCM has been gaining greater recognition worldwide both in clinical practice and as a focus of scientific research, says Xu Hongxi, a professor at the Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

“A decade ago, studies on TCM were rarely found in top scientific journals, but now there are quite a few articles on TCM in those journals,” he says.

In November, 2023, an article in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology titled “The role and mechanism of TCM in the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases” concluded: “The significance of Chinese herbal medicines in the context of infectious diseases should not be underestimated; however, it is crucial to also acknowledge their underutilisation.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 100 of its member states have approved the use of the TCM practices of acupuncture – in which needles are inserted into the skin to rebalance energy flow – and moxibustion, which entails burning mugwort leaves near certain points on the body for improved blood circulation, pain relief and enhanced overall well-being.

Twenty-nine of the WHO’s member states have laws and regulations on TCM.

Some TCM herbal drugs have been shown to have advantages in treating geriatric, infectious, and metabolic diseases, and in the prevention and recurrence of tumours, Xu says.

Hong Kong’s first Chinese medicine hospital, in Pak Shing Kok, in Hong Kong’s Tseung Kwan O neighbourhood, has been under construction since 2021 and is scheduled to be completed in 2025.

It will initially provide only outpatient treatment, with inpatient services to be added in the second year. All of its 400 beds will open by 2027, including 250 in inpatient wards, 90 in day wards, 40 in paediatric wards and 20 in the clinical trial and research centre.

The Chinese Medicine Hospital of Hong Kong undergoing construction in January, 2024. Photo: SCMP


Dr Arthur Lau Chun-wing, the hospital’s deputy chief executive in Western medicine, says it will predominantly provide TCM services, with Western medicine doctors playing a supporting role.

A model is being developed that will integrate Chinese medicine and Western medicine hospital services and capitalise on the advantages of the two types of treatment.

There are hurdles in terms of the cultural integration of these distinct treatment philosophies, though, as well as some regulatory issues.

Lau says that in a more integrated healthcare system, such as in mainland China, a doctor can prescribe both Chinese and Western medicine. In Hong Kong, Chinese medicine doctors cannot prescribe Western medicine, and vice versa.


"Twenty years ago, TCM talent in Hong Kong was mainly imported [ …] but nowadays, our students can be exported"

Feng Yibin, director of the School of Chinese Medicine at the University of Hong Kong


The integration could benefit patients, who Lau says want whatever treatment will help them recover as fully and as quickly as possible, regardless of which type it is.

While 26 Hong Kong public hospitals are now integrating TCM practices, they are mostly limited to acupuncture rather than drug-level treatments.

“As medical doctors, we’re rather cautious about the potential side effects [from using TCM and Western drugs together] because we have to take the ultimate responsibility for the patients in hospital,” Lau says.

To be able to provide the best treatments from both sides will require establishing evidenced-based standards for TCM and creating a database to record the interaction of herbal drugs and Western medicine.

Xu highlights the need for reliable clinical proof of TCM’s safety and efficacy to increase its recognition in a world where Western medicine is the mainstream.

“I encourage companies to invest more in this area. Researchers, hospitals and businesses [can] collaborate on the clinical studies of quality TCM products, through internationally recognised methods like randomised double-blind trials,” he says.

Feng Yibin, director of the School of Chinese Medicine at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), says the city has been nurturing a solid talent pool for integrating TCM into the modern health system.

Three universities in Hong Kong – HKU, Baptist University and Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) – set up TCM programmes soon after Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. They not only educate students in TCM but provide Western medical knowledge and an international perspective.

Over 750 students were enrolled in Baptist University’s school of Chinese Medicine in the 2022/23 academic year.

The university, which the government appointed to run the first Chinese medicine hospital, is now exploring a plan to set up Hong Kong’s first school combining Western and traditional Chinese medicine in a town near the border with mainland China.

According to CUHK, 25 of its students obtained a bachelor’s degree in Chinese Medicine in 2023, while 34 students earned a master’s degree.

“Twenty years ago, TCM talent in Hong Kong was mainly imported from mainland China or overseas,” Feng says. “But nowadays, our students can be exported to mainland China and also other countries, especially senior researchers.”