Chinese Medicine is a Whole Medical System. Whole Medical Systems, are complete systems of theory and practice that have evolved over time in different cultures and apart from conventional or Western Medicine. Although Chinese Medicine in the west, is often used as a Complimentary Medicine to, or as an Integrative Medicine with Western Medicine, it is first and foremost a self-contained Whole Medical System and can be used as such.
The strength of TCM lies in its ability to diagnose and treat the underlying root cause of diseases as well as the presentation of symptoms that the disease is expressing. The symptom is not seen as the disease but rather an expression of the disease process. If one were to simply regard and treat the symptom in isolation without considering its underlying cause, it is comparable to placing a lid on top of a boiling pot of water and expecting it not to explode off. Instead we focus both on turning the flame down, as well as placing the lid on the pot.
Added to this ideology, TCM is a holistic medicine. Many people have come to define holistic as "natural" or "alternative". But, in fact, by definition, holistic means, 'Characterized by the belief that the parts of something are intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole'. ~Oxford dictionary. TCM draws from all factors both internal and external that contribute to your current state of health.
Finally, TCM is based on PATTERN DIAGNOSES. The concept of pattern diagnoses is captured in a famous axiom of Chinese medicine: "One pattern, many diseases. One disease, many patterns". This is a KEY distinguishing feature of this system of healthcare. Each individual will present with a completely unique set of signs and symptoms. These signs and symptoms are then classified into patterns, or symptoms complexes and so the TCM doctor always seeks to define and treat the pattern, not the disease. A good example in clinic might present as follows. 10 patients seek treatment for tension headaches.
The doctor doesn't simply diagnose tension headache and treat all 10 patients with the same analgesic or pain killer. Instead the headache is then sub-divided into various patterns, such as Liver yang rising, Liver qi stagnation, blood stagnation, blood deficiency to name just few. This diagnosis is ascertained by assessing patient history as well as a multitude of accompanying signs and symptoms that may present, such as thirst and irritability, or perhaps dizziness and pale menses. With this information, the TCM doctor is able to formulate a symptom complex and make an individuated diagnosis and treatment.
Modern western medicine focuses on the microscopic view of the body, examining in minute detail the chemical and structural makeup of the body and its cells. Disease is often treated by isolating the microscopic processes involved and manufactured drugs or surgery are used to affect these processes. It is fast acting and effective, but often simply treats the symptoms and not the underlying causes of illness.
Neither, the systems are different and can work autonomously or in a complimentary and integrative way. Depending on the needs of the patient and their presenting condition, I will choose to use Traditional Chinese Medicine independently, or take advantage of combining western medicine with the traditional eastern skills of acupuncture and herbs. The challenge in South Africa is for doctors to be willing to work collaboratively for the health of the patient. In many countries, including Australia, China, the UK and the US, especially in the field of fertility, there are many successful complimentary and integrative clinics already established in this manner.