Western and Eastern Medicine compared 
by Walter Sorochan

Posted April 27, 2013; updated October 17, 2021.  Disclaimer  The information presented here is for informative and educational purposes only and is not intended as curative or prescriptive advice.

Health care in United States is under scrutiny by politicians and economists today for not just because it is expensive but also whether it is really helping to keep people healthy.  Is Western medicine really serving its people?  Healers and the medicine they practice are also being challenged by the patients they serve.  This challenge is evident in where sick people go for help.  More sick persons today are seeking help from unconventional medicine than from conventional medicine.  Indeed, many patients combine Western and alternative medical practices, labeling this approach complementary alternative medicine [CAM].

Chinese has already integrated Western medicine into its Chinese medicine [ CM ]; although such practice may not be as effective as it should be.  "Physicians in China have been cross-trained substantially in both disciplines.  Many doctors in China are using both Western Medicine and Chinese Medicine in daily practice, sometimes utilizing both modalities, depending on the patient’s preference or condition."  Yen: integrating Chinese medicine 2012  On the other hand, complementary alternative medicine and it's multidisciplinary approach acceptance of Eastern or Oriental medicine in United States today is in slow transition.  The classic example is the integration of acupuncture by many Western trained medical doctors. Brisbane: UCLA conference 2004 This raises the question : "What is the difference between Western and Eastern medicine?  This is the jest of this article.

The table below compares the numerous aspects of both health care systems:

Comparison itemEasternWestern
Medical descriptionTraditional Chinese Medicine [TCM], Oriental, unconventional, alternative, Natural treatment/therapy, Complementary Chinese Alternative Medicine [ CAM ] Conventional, allopathic,
Complementary Alternative medicine [ CAM ]
Health viewHolistic: balance of energy forces
Health is a balance between mind, body, and spirit.  Health is an ongoing process of maintaining balance and harmony in the circulation of qi.
Less holistic; Health is absence of disease, pain, defect, or symptoms of illness
Disease perceptionDisease is believed to be related to an imbalance in the inside doshas
[ balance of the humors ].
Disease is believed to be caused primarily by viruses, bacteria and nutrition imbalance-in other words, outside influences
Bio-energyQi or chi, prana, life forcenone
Bio-energy therapyAcupuncture [ channels of energy flow ]do not believe in bio-energy
Cause of illnesscause is quite simply a stagnation of the flow of Qi energy; unbalanced life force foreign microorganisms, defective tissue, ideopathic or cause unknown
Symptom interpretationbody's way of showing that body is healing itselfmanifestation of disease
Therapy conceptPrevention; promote health and treat cause of diseaseTreatment; suppress symptoms
Treatment modalityTreat Cause
multiple [ physical, mental ], total body; treat the disease by determining the root causes, resolving them before finally stopping the symptoms
Treat symptoms & ignore causes;
single cause, suppress pain, drug medication
Diagnostic measuresuse Human senses: pulse, tongue, eyes, coloring; analyses body energyuse Diagnostic lab tests
Iatrogenic Illness (physician caused) almost non-existent4th leading cause of death, harms millions
StrengthLifestyle causes illnesshandling trauma; surgery
Treatment ideology
Yang-Yin complementary
Yang treat energy inside cells and body

diagnoses and acts upon the energy that creates the disease state.

Yin outside
treat outside cells, blood and chemicals
Variety of therapiesacupuncture, martial arts, herbal medicine,  massage such as Shiatsu. Additional therapies may include nutrition or diet, and lifestyle counseling drugs for pain, surgery,
CostInexpensiveVery expensive

diagnoses and acts upon the energy that creates the disease state.

exists in the physical realm:

Need to see it e.g. chemical equation or microscope, X-rays

Side effectsfewmany
Role of doctorAssistant; help people stay well mechanic; fix what is broken and find things that are wrong
Individualized treatmentPractitioners traditionally used four methods to evaluate a patient’s condition: observing (especially the tongue), hearing/smelling, asking/interviewing, and touching/palpating (especially the pulse). Same pill for all;
one therapy fits all
Efficiencyfocus on basic primary care—an approach that is very cost effectivefocus on expensive specialty care;
inadequate when it comes to treatment of chronic degenerative diseases and lifestyle-induced illnesses.

Illustrations of two Chinese medical methods to evaluate a patient:

Tongue evaluation:
chinese pulse


Adagem Kim, "Seniors Use Alternative Medicine, but Don't Talk About It," Yahoo Voices, January 30, 2007.  Article no longer active.

Brisbane Frances, "Landmark Conference Builds Bridges Between TCM and Western Medicine," Acupuncture Today, February, 2004, Vol. 05, Issue 02.  Brisbane: UCLA conference 2004

Hays Jeffrey, "Health care in China today," Facts and Details, November 2012.    Article no longer active

Hays Jeffrey, "Traditional Chinese medicine," Facts and Details, 2008, Last updated July 2012.  Article no longer active.

Mokaila Aone, "Traditional vs. Western Medicine - African Context," Drury University [Springfield, Il], December 08, 2011.  Article no longer active.

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (N C C A M): Part of the National Institutes of Health, "Traditional Chinese Medicine: An Introduction," June 2010.  Article no longer active.

According to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, which included questions on the use of various CAM therapies, an estimated 3.1 million U.S. adults had used acupuncture in the previous year. US NIH: Comp Medicine 2010 

Sentman C. Wade, "Western Medicine Proves to Be Inadequate Compared to Eastern Medicine," YahooVoices, June 18, 2009.  Eastern Medicine Looks at the Big Picture, Instead of Merely Addressing Symptoms  Article no longer active.

Stone Al, "Western and Eastern Medicine compared," Gancao.net, November 30, 2009.    Stone: West-East Medicine 2009

Wright Daniel, "Ancient Eastern Medicine in Modern Western Times," YahooVoices, July 2, 2007.  Article no longer active.

Yen Wong Emily, Barak Gaster and Sum Ping Lee, "East meets West: current issues relevant to integrating Chinese medicine," Chinese Medicine, September 3, 2012.    Yen: integrating Chinese medicine 2012