Communication tool to describe use of traditional herbal Chinese medicine to Western medicine physicians

Many members of the Chinese community use traditional herbal Chinese medicine (TCM) concurrently with Western medicine. A survey of four metropolitan Vancouver family practices with predominantly Chinese patients found that 28% of patients used traditional herbal Chinese medicine in addition to Western medicine.[1] While traditional herbal Chinese medicine can be complementary to Western therapies, adverse drug and disease interactions can cause significant morbidity and mortality.[2,3] Currently there is no organized communication system between providers of traditional herbal Chinese medicine and Western practitioners. With the growing population of Chinese residents and the increase in traditional herbal Chinese medicine use in other ethnic groups,[4,5] minimizing herbal interactions becomes increasingly important in patient health and safety.

We have created a resource to bridge the communication gap between the use of traditional herbal Chinese medicine and Western medicine—a list of 22 TCM herbs on a pocket-sized card that patients can carry with them when visiting their physicians (Figure). We researched herbs listed in the TCM Materia Medica for moderate to severe interactions with drugs or diseases that are supported by level A or B evidence. If patients are taking any of these herbs, they or their physicians can select the applicable items on the card and then show the card to the patients’ other health care professionals. While the list is not comprehensive and should not be the only method used in a clinical setting to check interactions, it is a starting point to communicate important potential herb-drug or herb-disease interactions that a patient may be at risk of. For up-to-date information about each herb, physicians can consult the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database (

Our initiative has been supported by the interCultural Online Health Network, a program that supports multicultural citizens in BC in optimal self-management of chronic diseases using e-health technologies. Interested physicians may obtain copies of the TCM card at the following address and contact for additional information. Please note that the cards will not be mailed out.

interCultural Online Health Network
UBC Faculty of Medicine eHealth Strategy Office
855 West 10th Avenue
Vancouver, BC V5Z 1L7


This article has been peer reviewed.


1.    Wong LK, Jue P, Lam A, et al. Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture. How do patients who consult family physicians use these therapies? Can Fam Physician 1998;44:1009-1015.
2.    Chen K, Xu H. The integration of traditional Chinese medicine and Western medicine. Eur Rev 2003;11:225-235.
3.    Lu AP, Jia HW, Xiao C, et al. Theory of traditional Chinese medicine and therapeutic method of diseases. World J Gastroenterol 2004;10:1854-1856.
4.    Vohra S, Feldman K, Johnson B, et al. Integrating complementary and alternative medicine into academic medical centers: Experience and perceptions of nine leading centers in North America. BMC Health Serv Res 2005;5:78.
5.    Joos S, Rosemann T, Szecsenyi J, et al. Use of complementary and alternative medicine in Germany—a survey of patients with inflammatory bowel disease. BMC Complement Altern Med 2006;6:19.


Drs Cheng, Ke, Lee, and Wu are graduates of the UBC MD class of 2015. Dr Cheng is pursuing a family medicine residency in Calgary. Dr Ke is a PGY-1 anesthesiology resident at Dalhousie University. Dr Lee is a UBC Fraser Health psychiatry resident in his PGY-1 training at Royal Columbian Hospital. Dr Wu is a PGY-1 resident in family medicine at the University of Alberta. Dr Ho is a professor of emergency medicine and the director of the eHealth Strategy Office at the UBC Faculty of Medicine. He leads the eHealth office in research in e-health, is the theme director of eHealth Informatics in the UBC medical school curriculum, and is the executive director of the interCultural Online Health Network. All authors contributed equally to this work.

Yu Ling Cheng, BSc, MD,, Janny Xuechen Ke, MD,, Danny Siwai Lee, BSc(Pharm), MD,, Qiming Wu, BSc, BSc(Pharm), MD,, Kendall Ho, MD, FRCPC. Communication tool to describe use of traditional herbal Chinese medicine to Western medicine physicians. BCMJ, Vol. 57, No. 8, October, 2015, Page(s) 356-357 - Beyond Medicine.

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