Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), which is an alternative to mainstream health care, is widely used worldwide as an integral part of the medical system. It includes treatments from a variety of histories and cultures. According to the WHO, CAM has a long history of use in health maintenance and disease prevention and treatment.1 It represents the sum total of the knowledge, skill, and practices of health maintenance as well as of the prevention, diagnosis, improvement, and treatment of physical and mental illness.2
The prevalence rates of CAM use can be expected to differ between countries because of economic, social, and cultural factors. In the past two decades, the prevalence of CAM used by the general populations was 10.0–48.7% in some European countries,3 while the rate was higher in Asian countries (South Korea: 45.8–69%, Japan: 76%, Lao PDR: 77%, Malaysia: 55.6%).3–5
As one form of CAM, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is one of the popularly used medical/health practices throughout the world.1 TCM is based on unique views on life, on fitness, on diseases, and on the prevention and treatment of diseases that have been formed during its long history of absorption and innovation.6 TCM combines the use of Chinese herbal medicines, acupuncture and moxibustion, massage (tuina), and therapeutic mind/body practices.7 In China, TCM is not considered an alternative form of treatment, as opposed to western medicine, but an integrative complement to western medicine,8 and it is emphasized that equal importance should be placed on both TCM and western medicine in China’s medical system.
In 2020, China counted 4426 TCM hospitals, which amounts to 12.5% of the total number of hospitals, while 86.7% among all types of hospitals in China had dedicated TCM departments. The number of clinical visits to TCM hospitals was approximately 518.5 million in 2020, about 15.6% of the total number of clinical visits to hospitals of all types.9 This proportion shows an upward trend year by year.
In previous studies, more attention has been paid to the application of TCM from the perspective of disease treatment, such as using TCM for cancer treatment10–12 or molecular studies of herbal drugs used to treat a particular disease.13,14 Some studies focused on the attitudes of physicians or medical students toward the TCM.15,16 In particular, there is no data on the opinions of patients with different medical conditions regarding the efficacy of TCM.17
Although TCM plays an important role in China’s medical system, there is a lack of comprehensive understanding of patients’ preferences regarding TCM, especially when it comes to patients with different medical conditions. This study thus aimed to fill this void in the literature.
We therefore mainly focused on the utilization and opinions of TCM in patients, especially regarding the medical conditions of the patients who were willing to use TCM, and assessed via interviews with patients at five different types of hospitals. Additionally, we aimed to reveal the patients’ beliefs