In the WHO Traditional Medicine Strategy 2014-2023 report, the World Health Organization discusses the burgeoning yet underestimated popularity of traditional medicine. Recognising that the dominance of western medicine has created unequal structures which reinforce the legitimacy of different healing systems, the report emphasises the importance of understanding the needs and uses of traditional medicines in healthcare systems.
CNM’s Professor Mohan Dutta, PhD candidate Pauline Luk, researchers Lily Lee and Desiree Soh tackle this urgency by establishing a groundbreaking study to examine how decisions made by patients and practitioners help promote Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as a viable means of healing. 25 TCM practitioners (the quintessential sinseh) and 51 TCM patients were interviewed between 2015 and 2016, where they described their practices of applying TCM, common meanings, daily habits of using TCM, concerns in communicating their choices in using TCM, the challenges they experience, and their day-to-day negotiations of these challenges.
The results are instructive. They reveal that both culture and structure can either complement or challenge the use of traditional medicine in Singapore’s multi-ethnic society. Patients, TCM practitioners, doctors trained in western medicine and the general public participate in the negotiation of TCM, constituted amid cultural constructions of TCM, and are guided by the overarching structure of healthcare in Singapore. Significantly, communication continues to play a critical role in shaping interpretations and understanding the key concepts and uses of TCM.
In a broader climate that privileges bio-medicine, the study demonstrates the advantage of underpinning policy decisions on TCM to conversations that are already taking place on the ground. This would help encourage collaboration between doctors trained in Western medicine and TCM practitioners, thus improving patient access to care in a distinctly local context of multiple healing traditions.
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